I am always being asked this question: What can I do to help? My mind goes blank. I go blank because there is so much to do, that I don’t know where to start. And then, I end up saying thank you but I am fine. Only later, I find myself trying to remember who offered to baby sit or pick up my scripts!
When I was diagnosed three and a half years ago, I had no family close that I could rely on. But, I called my friends to help. They were getting together to plan meals, taking turns helping with house work and the boys, and even getting their work and church friends together to help with little things here and there. This lasted until the first week of treatment, when a friend of a friend told the entire group that I wasn’t actually sick, and that I was a scammer trying to get people to make food for my family?? The things I’ve had to deal with are unreal, and they will unfold in my weekly blogs about the Dirty Details of Cancer. Anyway, I still had 6 months of chemo to look forward to, and all my help had just been taken away. Before I knew it, I had my best friend Donna left, who basically ended up living at my house 4 days a week. And, I had my friend Stacy who took me to my doctor appointments and chemotherapy treatments. But I still needed help cooking, cleaning, and living a life, or my 2 friends I had left would definitely be worn out! Can’t forget that they also have their lives being moms, and wives with careers.
I want to help everyone to know how be there for their friends if they become ill, because I lost more than half of my friends when I was diagnosed. Some don’t know what to do, so they stay away. Cancer honestly does take a village, so make sure someone is keeping everyone in the loop. There are plenty of great resources that I tried to implement, but I couldn’t babysit everyone while fighting cancer, and they all just fell off. So, I wanted to give everyone some tips on what the patient needs from you as a friend. Because, the one thing a new patient feels the most is loneliness. People already start to look at you like you are dying, and a wall is put up. Treat your friend like your friend, not like a cancer patient. Include them on everything, even when you know they aren’t feeling well. We all need a sense of purpose, and to feel included. I know as the patient, I was feeling trapped in a “cancer bubble” as I like to call it. I was either at the hospital or in bed, while everyone around me had a life. It’s tough. Make sure you are letting them know on a constant basis that, they are on your mind.
Now, the people in the village need to remember that the patient pretty much feels like crawling into a hole, so don’t go to the patient to work out every single detail. Ask the questions before treatment starts if possible, and then work with that as best you can. Keep them in the loop by just telling them what’s going on. If you do set up a group online, make sure the patient can be a part of it. People will ask over and over what you need and as a cancer patient, your brain is on overload and you can’t come up with an answer. So leave it open for the patient to shoot a text, or post in the online group, as things pop into their heads.
These are the main village leaders:
1. Main Leader – takes initiative and will facilitate the calendar for the patients specific needs, keep the villagers focused. This might be a parent of the patient, someone who can work from home, or a stay at home parent. It’s better for a couple of people to manage this if possible. Ask for help and donations.
2. Village Treatment Leader(s) – Picks up patient and takes them to all appointments, treatments and get scripts. Possibly keep up with a medical blog to keep others informed. Ask for help and donations. If you know someone who stays home or works from home, they are perfect candidates so please don’t hesitate to ask them to help. If it’s only a few hours a week, it’s something.
3. Home helpers(s) – come over on treatment days to help with household tasks, childcare if needed, stays until another person arrives. Ask for help and donations.
4. Village Friends – help with meals, house cleaning, groceries, and check up on the patient. Ask for help and donations.
If you know someone who has been diagnosed, get the village together and ask who wants to help with what. But make sure they are aware of how long they are signing up to make a weekly meal or give rides. Just my chemotherapy lasted for 6 months, then surgery, 3 months of radiation, and several more surgeries put me at 2 years, then I was re-diagnosed. These villagers will be signed on for a while, so choose these people wisely. Of course, things happen, so ask them to have back ups in certain situations. There are websites like Meal Train which has a group calendar so people can sign up to bring meals, give a ride to an appointment, and it even lets you add your food allergies. Also, freezer meal workshops are a great way to make meals for both the patient and your family at the same time. I do monthly workshops, it takes about an hour to make 10 meals. Or you can double it and make 20, and give the patient 2 work weeks worth of dinners!
You could make a separate Google calendar that everyone can see on their phones to remind them. Or, make a private group on Google+. But, as I said, someone has to lead this, or your help will disappear fast. People are busy and forgetful, make it easy for them to stay connected. Set up your group text thread so everyone is on the same page. I plan to make a video on how to implement these ideas soon!
Also, don’t just let any random person sign up to help your friend with cancer, it’s a bad idea on many levels. You can post on your social media platforms, tell co-workers and relatives that you are looking for specific help during your friends treatment, like gift cards for food, scripts, house cleaning, etc. But remember, if they are strangers to you, suggest they donate a gift card to the grocery store or a restaurant, and mail it to your address instead of the patient. People are so excited to “meet the patient” when they help out. But mostly, the patient doesn’t want to be introduced to strangers while going through treatment because they have no energy, and let’s face it, they look like they feel. Just let the patient rest and send a thank you card on their behalf.
As for the rest of my village friends, they use what they do for a living to help me. My friend Sonya cleans homes, so she came over to offer her services. My friend Jolie’s husband works on computers, so he fixed our computer. And knows a mechanic so he helped us find a trustworthy auto repair shop. Start looking for resources, things like this, right under your nose that may be overlooked. And, if the family of the patient has a food allergy, find out if other friends have the same allergies. They already know how to cook that way. Keep thinking outside the box for ways to help because our chemo brains don’t work very well, and we can’t always think about what we need. It’s hard to think straight when you aren’t sure how long you have on this earth. My best advice is just be there for your friend, drop by before work or after work, on the weekends, and just see if anything needs to be done. Or when you are at the store, grab something to bring over later. Be there any way you know how. If you are further away, send gift cards and ask your friends to go in on a larger amount to last a little longer.
Bottom line, a cancer patient needs as much help as they can find. As you help them to get over this hurdle and to recover, you have to keep them in your heart and on your mind constantly. Almost like your own children, they have weight with every decision you make, if you choose to help them through. When people say “I have a ‘cancer’ family”, this is what it means. I urge you to take an hour out of your day to go help someone battling a disease or illness today. Call and say hi, ask what they need and run by. Let them know you are thinking about them anyway you can.
Thank you very much for reading, I hope to help others going through an illness, so please share. It’s highly important for me to help patients and caregivers help each other.
Stop by next week and I will talk about how to Be their biggest fan when they are diagnosed.
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