A guest post by Kara Turey
When we find out someone we care about has cancer, one of our first thoughts is “What can I do?”
Being a friend or family member of someone battling cancer can feel like a helpless role but there are things people can do to support a cancer patient, both practical and sentimental.
During my own battle with breast cancer, I had so many wonderful people take care of me and my family in meaningful ways. I wanted to share some of what I felt helped me the most so that if you have a friend or family member who is diagnosed with cancer, you can best help him or her too.
Ways to Help a Friend Battling Cancer
Schedule a Meal Train
A sweet friend in my office and one of my long time friends coordinated a meal train for my family when I had my first surgery. They asked me what my family and I liked to eat and also what I could and could not have. Being that I had an aggressive form of breast cancer (caught early, thank God) that was estrogen driven, I needed to eat chicken and meat that had no added hormones. Fortunately, no one in my family is a picky eater. I had food showing up every day. This was really nice because I had no idea after surgery that it would be nice to have food to pop into the oven or just to warm up. We are a small family of three so we often had extra food to freeze. When I was going through chemo, the first week was difficult so having food in my freezer for my family was helpful. We were very grateful for the meal train.
Offer to Help with the Children
I was fortunate that friends of mine picked my daughter up from school, helped her with her homework, and took her to dinner when I had surgery so my husband could stay at the hospital with me. A parent of my daughter’s best friend has taken my daughter her many times for play dates and outings when I was not feeling up to par. The mom guilt set in a few times but I am grateful for the people who helped us out as it takes a village sometimes.
Continue to Invite Them to Do Things
Even though I could not run for a few weeks after my first surgery, I could ride my bike and walk. My running friends welcomed me with open arms when I was invited to come along for our morning routines and I would bring my bike or borrow one of my friend’s bikes. This helped me feel like I was still part of my friend groups and that my company was still wanted. My family also continued to plan trips to Disney and other places on my good weeks. Cancer can make one feel like they will be forgotten about so it is important to try to help them feel like they still belong and help with the anxiety.
Offer to Go to Chemo
Going to chemotherapy can be scary. I remember the first time going in, my family was with me and I cried. I was scared because I had read a lot of bad stories online (tell your loved ones NOT to read anything online about chemo before they have their appointment.) I was blessed that my friends would come sit with me at my appointments. This meant the world to me, as I didn’t have to be alone and also had someone to talk to each time. My appointments were three hours so that is a long time by yourself. Making sure your loved one has a nice blanket and some carbohydrate snacks is a good idea too, as these sit well in the stomach during treatment. Water with ice is also good as some of the chemo drugs cause mouth sores so sucking on ice during that part of the infusion is important to avoid the sores.
Recommend/Pay for Acupuncture
A friend of mine who went through cancer treatments last year told me about the benefits of acupuncture. When I had chemo treatment, I made sure the next day I went to acupuncture to feel better. I highly recommend this to anyone as it helps get the toxins out of the body and makes the patient feel human again. Acupuncture is not cheap (unfortunately, insurance doesn’t see it as a necessity) so I paid out of pocket, but I knew I didn’t have to go forever and I found a place that I would be in a private room. This was important to me as I was able to take my wig off and be comfortable and relaxed, and I was able to hang with my family the entire weekend instead of feeling sick and being in pain. If you have the means, pay for a session or two of acupuncture for the patient at the place of his or her choice.
Create a Goodie Basket for Treatments
One of my friend’s sisters has been through breast cancer twice, unfortunately, so my friend knew exactly what was needed and most appreciated in a gift basket for a cancer patient. Here are some things I received that were beneficial to me:
- A blanket– as mentioned earlier is nice to have for a blanket for treatment appointments. Running is my favorite hobby so my friends put together shirts from races I had run with them and made them into a quilt. Every time I felt bad or was at chemo, I had a part of them with me and it lifted my spirits.
- Bath fizz balls– taking a bath with these was nice and relaxing and made me feel better.
- Word searches– these are relaxing for chemo sessions or any time the patient wants to unplug and do a brain exercise.
- Ginger candy or ginger snaps– they ease the stomach. These are good to have right after the treatment session as well because depending on the drugs, the stomach may or may not feel well.
- Medicines – some good ones include Tylenol and Destin.
- Lip balm– the lips become very dry during treatments.
- Gum– this is great to chew during chemo. I liked peppermint as I found it soothed my stomach too.
- Warm fuzzy socks– my chemo started in January and in Florida, it can be cool out but the rest of the US is much colder. I liked having my fuzzy socks for treatment and also at home when my feet were cold.
- Hard candies and anti-nausea candies– these were the best when I was not feeling well and when I didn’t really have taste buds.
- A squish ball– chemo is stressful but a squish ball is a great way to help loosen the anxiety.
- Bandana for the hair– this was nice to have when sitting in chemo if I didn’t want the wig on so that my head was not cold.
Help Find a Wig
The American Cancer Society has free wigs and also a program to help with applying makeup, once the eyebrows and eyelashes fall out, if they do. My friend offered to go with me to find a wig. We made an appointment, had lunch before the appointment and went in. When the lady asked what kind I was looking for, she brought out ones she had that matched my description. She also brought out scarves for the hair and hats. I cried looking through everything…I couldn’t believe I was going through this. I did not like any of the wigs that she had so she recommended another location of the American Cancer Society that was 30 minutes away that I could visit as well. At both places, the women were very caring and cancer survivors themselves.
Go with Your Friend for the Haircut
My hair had started falling out about the time of the second chemo and I was able to wear it up in a ponytail to work for a few more days. On a Sunday night during the week after the second round of chemo, I got out of the shower and my hair was matted to my head. I tried to brush it and it came out in large clumps and hung down my face like a man’s beard! My husband was out of town and I called him in a panic. He talked me off the ledge and said to text one of my girlfriends to see what we should do. I texted the one I knew always had the answers to everything (she is pretty smart) and she offered for me to go with her the next day to her hair appointment. There, she brought wine for us to drink and another one of our good friends as well. It was a small hairdresser business so we were the only ones in there. The hairdresser was very kind and made me feel better when she shaved my head. She showed me how to wear the wig that I had chosen at ACS. Finding out that her mom once had breast cancer made me feel better because she had an idea of what I was going through. I can’t wait for my hair to grow more so I can see her to have it cut and to look beautiful like hers.
Encourage Your Friend to Join A Support Group
I had such supportive friends and family that I didn’t think I needed a support group at first. It wasn’t until my hair started coming out in clumps that I decided that I needed a group who understood what I was going through. I have an awesome oncologist, but he never had cancer so he didn’t know what to tell me about questions I had. It was nice to find a group of Breast Cancer survivors under 50 that I could feel comfortable around. I made some friends from this group and we still talk to each other and attend meetings when we can. Have your friend ask the oncologist for a recommendation and also look on Facebook for a local group. The American Cancer Society is also a great resource for finding the right cancer support group.
Make Plans to Go For a Walk
It is too easy to hide under the comforter and not come out especially after cancer treatments. Getting out of the house and into the sunlight is so much better though, even if it is just for a little while. Two days after treatment is when I felt my worst and it was not fun to get up, but when I made the choice to go outside and walk while my daughter was warming up for basketball game or softball, I felt a lot better.
Every person is different but I wanted to help with some ideas of things that helped me. I have a whole village of people who helped me during my surgeries and treatments that kept me out of the darkness and helped me try to feel my best. Be there for the loved one and let him/her know how much you care . Always ask what can you do or simply inform the friend that you are doing something on this list. You will not be bothering him or her and it will help lift spirits that someone cares.
Kara Turey is mom to daughter Kennedy and wife to husband Colin. She lives on Florida’s Space Coast where she works as a school counselor at a private school. If you’d like to send a message to Kara, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.