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Do you really know how to help her? Without making it all about you?
Should I call? Visit? OMG! How could this happen? Will she be okay? What does this mean? How can I help? What do I do….
You could do the basic stuff (basic in this case doesn’t mean bad)
If the person diagnosed can’t tell a story about you that makes you blush, laugh or cringe in terror at the memory of it… keep the gift and the acknowledgment pretty simple and basic. It’s about respecting the privacy of the patient. Don’t overstep your boundaries.
A diagnosis of breast cancer is an extremely sensitive and private matter. The new patient-survivor may not have really digested what has just happened to her life. The last thing she needs is to have to try to explain something so personal to someone she really only knows in a surface way. Respect her privacy and keep your gift acknowledgment simple but appropriately empathetic.
If you’re closer than an acquaintance or you feel led to do something that really helps… you have to get more personal with your effort
The help she REALLY needs (and may not ask for)
This list is in no particular order.
- Drive her to/from daily radiation treatments or chemo treatments. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments are physically draining. A ride from a trusted friend eases your mind.
- Cook meals and deliver them to your friend. (for an additional boost of greatness, be sure to include disposable plates and eating utensils, cups and drinks)
- Take the kids for a day or overnight so the patient and spouse can rest
- Go over to her house once a week to clean and tidy up (if you have to disguise it as visiting with nervous hands… that’s okay)
- Call her regularly – not too often because she’s going to be really tired and in need of rest. But regular calls with good friends means that she hasn’t been forgotten. That matters.
- Offer to sit with her during her chemotherapy infusion (they can take a few hours to complete).
- Be sure to ask her how she wants to experience her chemotherapy (does she prefer to chat endlessly about anything but cancer, laughing at terrible jokes and funny movies, being quiet and non-disruptive…ask her what works best for her and then do that).
- ALWAYS offer your help. Even when she’s being stubborn and even if she says no every time. Make the offer.
- Gift cards for food are great. Example: A $50 gift card to McDonalds or Starbucks can be used for frozen smoothies/cold drinks that help ease the discomfort of mouth sores.
- A care basket of kids crafts for the children.
- Classmates of the kids could offer to host a sleepover to give mom & dad a break and to give some normalcy for the children.
- Take your friend on a car ride. Doesn’t have to be a super detailed trip, just an opportunity to get out of the house and to spend some time with a friend. Doing nothing like friends sometimes do.
- Go to the grocery store for her. Your friend may not have enough energy to grocery shop for herself or her family. A simple task that makes a huge impact. (If you can afford to pay for the groceries too, even better)
- Invite the husband/spouse/significant other out for a day or an evening to give him a break and offer some social support.
- Be a good listener. Seriously… just listen. Sometimes we need to talk and get some things off of our chest.
- Send a card – through the mail. You remember those paper things we used to look forward to receiving and used to send often? Yes… send those. Send one. Send one every week, every month. Opening mail that isn’t something from the hospital or the insurance company… that doesn’t bring any bad news, just comforting thoughts that someone cares… such a good feeling.
- Keep the patient first, always. People with good intentions of being supportive very often make having breast cancer about their fear and their sadness, instead of focusing on the patient and her needs and fears and concerns. Keep the patient first.
- Drop off a goodie bag with pampering items. (fluffy socks, really hydrating lotion -unscented preferably, bath salts, a thick blanket, etc.)
- Make sure that your schedule is flexible because changes happen constantly.
- Go to appointments with them. Actually sit with them when they talk with the oncology team. Pay close attention and take notes.
- Be an advocate for them. Especially if you plan to be at every appointment, know to speak up for their needs and concerns.
- Remember that chemo brain is real and be forgiving of forgetfulness. Patients can often forget certain aspects of their treatment that concern them, or questions that they thought of since their last appointment. A lot of information is given at each appointment and things can be missed or forgotten.
- Always carry a travel bag with certain necessities, including a vomit bag. (A clean shirt, a scarf, maybe a travel blanket, etc.) Anything is possible after chemo, be prepared.
- Encourage the patient to take time for their relationship. Cancer takes over your life, carve out time for dates (dates at home can be really nice if she’s too weak or tired to go out)
- Take pictures of your friend. She may not like it… but get pictures of her journey. I didn’t take a lot of pictures while I was in treatment but in hindsight, I really wish I had. I treasure the few pictures I do have from that time in my life.
- Use technology to stay connected. Facetime, Google hangouts, Skype, twitter, even text messages. Whatever you can use to stay connected to your friend, do that. There may be times during her treatment that she can’t have visitors, but she may be able to get on a google hangout and talk for a few moments.
- Money, gift cards, surprise bill payments – monetary assistance will likely be extremely helpful. Unless the survivor is independently wealthy or financially well-fixed, the cost of cancer will become overbearing. If you can afford to do so (and there’s no shame if you cannot), a financial gift will likely help a lot.
At the same time… there are a few things that you should NOT do
- Don’t question the patient’s decisions for treatment. It is hard enough to make the decisions you need to make about your treatment. She wants to save her life, probably more than you… don’t diminish the choices she’s made.
- Never say “maybe you should have”. Unless you are an oncologist, she’s probably not going to appreciate your second guessing of the hardest decisions she’s ever had to make.
- Don’t allow the patient to feel like giving up. Keep her encouraged. But… do so with transparency and honesty. Do not be overly perky or chipper (unless that’s your natural state) and make it seem as though this isn’t a big deal. It is. But still encourage her to keep going.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about cancer. She probably wants to discuss it. She’s also probably scared to discuss it with you because she doesn’t want to overwhelm you. Talk about the disease, it helps.
- NO stories about someone you knew with breast cancer who died. I promise you… this conversation does not do what you want it to do. It only freaks her out more. Save it.
- Don’t be negative around your friend. There is a fine line between being honest but upbeat and being unnaturally perky/optimistic. Positive thoughts and conversations help a lot.
Things that survivors can (and should) do
- Survivors should reach out to other survivors (when they feel strong enough to do so). Let new survivors know that they are not alone. Cancer can feel very isolating. A kind talk with someone who understands what “this” is all about, helps immensely.
- While in treatment pamper yourself, eat right and rest as much as possible.
- Don’t act like everything is okay and nothing is happening. It’s not good for you to delude yourself. And it’s not good for the people who love and care for you either.
- If you feel down or angry or negative… it is okay.for the brighter side. You’re human. Get mad. This is something to be angry about.
- Find someone to talk to – a counselor, a therapist, the social worker at the hospital, a good friend, your pastor, your parent, someone trustworthy and who cares about your well-being.
- If you like social media, find a group of survivors to join. Facebook has many breast cancer groups. You can search twitter and instagram #breastcancer hashtags to find like minded people.
- Definitely consider joining a support group. Being able to discuss what you’re going through, what your concerns are and to ask the difficult questions with people who know is invaluable. Ask your oncologist or the social worker at your cancer center about support groups.
Join the Fab Squad today.
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