How To Help A Friend With Cancer

These are three of the most frightening words in the English language.  “You have cancer.”

My dear friend was just diagnosed with cancer.  As you can imagine, this is overwhelming and confusing.  In most situations, friends and family desperately want to help but it’s hard to find the balance between helping and hovering.

When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer, I was asked over and over, “How can I help?”  It’s difficult to know how to help a friend with cancer.

For those with cancer and their loved ones, it’s important to remember that they are too busy with doctor’s appointments, treatment options, financial worries and sleepless nights to think “Hey, I can ask Karen to bring dinner over,” or “I wonder if Tom could pick up the kids from practice tonight.”

No one WANTS to need help.   Most of us resist asking for help fiercely.  So if you have a friend that’s newly diagnosed with cancer, they need YOU to reach out and offer.  Here are a few suggestions from our experience.

FOOD

If your friend is undergoing chemo, healthy nutritious food is often just too much trouble.  Offering to bring dinner is an incredibly kind way to take a small weight off.

For a cancer patient undergoing chemo, the sense of taste is often disrupted.  Food doesn’t taste good and nausea can be a big problem.  Simple nutritious foods, lightly flavored and spiced, are the best.

If you know your friend well and understand his or her food preferences, feel free to choose for him.  Otherwise it’s best to offer a small number of options.  “Hey Sharon, I’m going to bring dinner over for you tomorrow night.  I know chemo sucks and I’m not sure how your stomach is feeling.  Would you like some of my black bean soup and a salad, or maybe a pasta dish with chicken?”

ERRANDS AND HOUSEHOLD CHORES

All the little things that go into running a household are ten times harder to accomplish while undergoing cancer treatment.  Everyone can use help with cleaning, laundry, shopping and running the kids to and from their activities.

Again, remember that your friend is not likely to reach out and ask for help.  It’s up to you to offer.

PRAYER

One of the most important services you can provide for any cancer patient is prayer.  Studies have shown that third-party prayer improves health care outcomes.  No matter what your faith, prayer works and will help.

Encourage the cancer patient to stay active in their faith.  Offer to pick them up for services or reach out to the clergy at their congregation and ask for in-home ministry.  If your friend is hospitalized be sure to notify their congregation and let the nursing staff know to alert the hospital’s pastoral ministry department.  I know from personal experience how comforting it is to have a visit from a clergy member or lay minister while hospitalized.

If your family member or friend is diagnosed with cancer, it can be overwhelming to know what to do to help.  There are a number of simple, concrete things you can do to help a friend with cancer.  And remember to stay in touch.  Short phone calls can help reduce the isolation that cancer patients feel and remind them that they are loved.

QUESTION: Have you had trouble knowing how to help a loved one with cancer?  What was your experience?

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