For every person who is fighting cancer (or other serious disease), there are many more who are eager to help their friend or family member. For some supporters, there is a noticeable gap between wanting to pitch in and knowing how to. If we just described you, never fear—you’re not alone, and we happen to have some helpful suggestions.
5 Tips For Support
Though support comes in many forms, and the desired level of support is different for each patient (and at different stages in treatment), there are ways to be successful in lending support:
- Be prepared. The very first thing you need to do before supporting a cancer patient is to put on your proverbial oxygen mask first (to borrow from the flight attendant spiel before takeoff). Come to terms with your own emotions first before taking on theirs. This will help keep the focus on them. Also, by trying to put yourself in their shoes, you can gain a healthy perspective on what level of support might be well-received.
- Really listen. If you enjoy a close relationship with the patient, open the lines of communication. They will most likely tell you what they want and need—even if the level of support they need at that time is nothing at all. All you have to do is listen. (And if they’re not talking, don’t be afraid to ask.)
If ‘acquaintance’ best describes your relationship, offering a specific kind of help that you’re comfortable with might be a better course of action. Are you heading to the grocery store? Ask for their shopping list and save them a trip. Does the patient love your snickerdoodles? Ask if they sound appealing, and if they’re allowed to have them. (What sounds good can vary from moment to moment for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, and some patients are on a restrictive diet.) If you get the thumbs up, bake up a storm. Please do not be offended if they say no. Only they know what they want and need at any given time.
- Learn. Take it upon yourself to learn about the particular disease your friend/neighbor/family member is grappling with. The fewer times they need to repeat themselves or answer tough questions, the better. A little research can go a long way in gaining understanding. That said, recognize that not every patient reacts the same way to their disease, treatment or even post-disease lives. If you are more involved in their life and are at least partially responsible for care of the patient, a support group for caregivers could be helpful to you. And if the patient has taken to blogging or posting about their experience, follow them. You’ll learn tons.
- Be the liaison. Most people have a large network of friends and family who want to be in the know, yet often times, patients don’t have the energy or desire to make a myriad of calls and emails every time there’s a new development. If you are so inclined, help create a phone and/or email list with the patient’s help, and be the one who communicates updates to others.
- Let your friend be your guide. It is okay to laugh. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to talk about more than just the disease. It’s okay if plans happen to change at the last minute. It’s all very normal. The bottom line is that your friend will set the tone and pace, and your role is to right-size the level of support. Simply treat your friend the same way you did prior to their diagnosis.
Advice From Patients Themselves
In the next installment of Friends Of Cancer Patients Can & Should Play A Supporting Role, Paula Steinmetz, a patient of Dr. Perez with Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (a rare autoimmune disease), will share her experience and advice on how to support someone with a grave disease like ITP or cancer.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, contact Sierra Nevada Cancer Center and Dr. Perez. We will help guide you through your treatment and recovery.