Monday, October 15, 2012

Someone Has Cancer

Since I have been through more than one cancer diagnosis and multiple chemo/radiation sessions, I have had people ask me what can they do to help someone who was recently diagnosed with cancer.  Some tell me they don’t know what to say when either someone tells them they are diagnosed with cancer, or it is the first time they speak to that person after finding out.  

Let me list a few things that I feel are important and helpful.

When first speaking with the newly diagnosed:
  • LISTEN. Allow the person to speak, cry, be angry.
  • Realize that they will be going through their own personal nightmare.  Physically and mentally.
  • Telling them that you are very sorry, or that this is terrible news, or say that it sucks, or say I know this is a difficult time - is good.  
  • Physically reaching out and giving them a hug, a touch to their forearm, or to hold their hands - is good.
  • Telling that person you will help them anyway you can, and mean it - is good.  
  • Expecting that person will reach out to you when and if they need help - not so good.  It's not easy asking for help.
  • Telling that person that it’ll be ok, because 'you are strong and you will beat it' - not so good.  Why?  Because you don’t really know that..... You have no idea whether or not they will “beat” it.  And strength..... strength is not something they may be feeling for a very long long time.  Although you are conveying what you want to happen, it blocks them from showing how they actually feel - Scared as hell.  Scared of the unknown.  Scared that they will be weak.  Scared that they will die.  I can say with some high level of certainty, they do not feel strong at the moment they are telling others the news that they have cancer.  When I sign my correspondence, I often precede my name with two words - Stay Strong.  I add that to remind myself that to be strong, is an aspiration, not a freebie.

Now, back to how can you help that person.
  • Offer to drive that person to any one or more Dr appointments - As there are many.... Sometimes every day, or every week.....
  • Offer to stay with them in the infusion room during a chemo treatment - this takes at least 3 hours of time, sometimes more.
  • Offer to relieve a family member, or friend, at the hospital so they can take care of themselves for an hour or more.
  • Offer to drive them to one of many radiation treatments.
  • Offer to pick up their children for school or after school events.
  • Offer to take them to a child's, or family member's event.
  • Arrange to mow the grass, and weed the garden, trim the bushes, or pay a service to do it.
  • Arrange, and pay for, snow removal at their house.
  • Arrange time at the house to clean, or pay for a cleaning service.
  • Arrange for a relaxing body massage in their home.
  • Make a meal, or pick up an already prepared meal, that simply needs heating, or can easily be frozen for later.  Be sure to find out what type of foods they are able to and enjoy eating.  Chemo makes most foods taste like a dirty penny, and spices can cause stomach upset.
  • Arrange time at the house and do the laundry, or pick it up and take it to a dry cleaning/laundry service.
  • Make a utility payment, or car payment, house payment if you can afford to do so - even with insurance, medical expenses out of pocket can be high, and they may not have any income from sick pay or disability.
  • Pick them up and go out for a drive, a sit in the park, a quiet meal, a pedicure and foot massage, enjoy their company.
  • Offer to pick up the groceries, or find out what general staples they need/use and pick them up when doing your own shopping.
  • Arrange time to come by and take the dog for a walk, and clean the cat litter box, or the bird cage.
  • If you come for a visit, and notice there are dirty dishes in the sink, wash them.
  • Its the little things that can often mean so much and make a huge difference for that person.
  • Giving a plant or some sort of gift that requires attention - not so good.  It just adds one more thing to think about taking care of.

Notice a lot of these items take the burden not just off of the person going through the cancer, but also their families, their co-cancer partners.  They are also under a great deal of stress.

Additionally, you may want to make a donation to a cancer research foundation.  Choose carefully and make sure the foundation is legit and indicates clearly how it utilizes its funds.  Beware of purchasing products that indicate a portion of proceeds go to a cancer foundation, as those portions tend to be very minimal and lack regulation controls.  

There you have it - with very little snark - no worries, there will be plenty of other topics I can add snark to...... :)


  1. Thanks for this blog. It is helpful to get hints from someone who understands - from the inside. I may report your URL on Facebook if that is OK. I have some friends who can benefit from your wisdom!

    1. Thanks.... Yes, please do! Much appreciated. :)

  2. Wish I'd had this in 2009. This cannot be shared enough! Thanks and best wishes to you, Cindy!

  3. Hi Cindy,

    Just came here from a twitter link... All EXCELLENT points and suggestions....

    I'm reading your bio and I think you may want to try to connect with Stephanie of My Heart Your Hands. She is focused on the late term, long term effects of cancer treatment. Her website is here: and she is an absolute DOLL!

    Stay Strong.....

    Look forward....


  4. Great advice. I was stunned at the things people said after my diagnosis, like "At least they caught it early" and "You'll beat this" that made me feel worse. The people who chose to share that their mother/grandmother/neighbor, etc died from breast cancer made me feel even worse. Those who simply said "It sucks" and "I believe in you" were the best. And those who didn't ask me what I needed but who just dove in and did--walking my dog, vacuuming up his hair, taking my kids for an outing--were the absolute best. Lesson learned: don't ask what the cancer patient needs, and don't say "Let me know if you need anything." Just jump in and do something.
    P.S. I like your snark!