What You Can Do for a Friend with Cancer
by Denise Hazen
Finding out that a friend or loved one has been diagnosed with cancer can be overwhelming. For most of us, our first response is to make a chicken casserole or to offer, “Call me if you need anything.” These are both kind gestures, but what your loved one really needs is for you to take action.
The first step is to crown her “Princess” or declare him “Prince.” You need to put the person you care for on a pedestal and offer the kind of help that maneuvers them through life’s everyday challenges. And at the same time, you need to remember to embrace the journey while celebrating life and friendships.
As a friend, find a reason to celebrate as each milestone is met. Before the Prince or Princess begins treatment, get other friends and loved ones together for a gathering. Find t-shirts, cards, hats, mugs, or other happy gifts with encouraging sayings or funny quotes. If chemotherapy is involved, have a scarf, hat, or do-rag party. Think about throwing a celebration as the Prince or Princess completes chemotherapy or radiation. Show up at the hospital with a cake, party hats, and sparkling cider to rejoice in the completion of this part of the journey.
Everyone loves to receive gifts, but be practical in what you give your Prince or Princess. Flowers and candy are wonderful, but if daily expenses are a challenge, a gift card to the grocery store or gas station would be greatly appreciated.
If chemotherapy is involved, have a scarf, hat, or do-rag party.
Remember, gifts do not have to be expensive to be thoughtful. You can send funny or encouraging cards. Get a group together and try to send the Prince or Princess weekly notes of encouragement. Everyone loves getting a letter in the mail. A weekly run to the video store or setting up a Netflix account will give the Prince or Princess a temporary escape. Know what genre of film they enjoy, and spend an afternoon watching a movie and eating popcorn. Always read the synopsis of the movies you rent and make sure they all have a happy ending.
Thank-you notes are not necessary, but if your Prince or Princess insists on sending them, print up cards that say, “Thank you for your love, thoughts, and prayers.” Help to address and mail the cards to make sharing gratitude an act of pleasure rather than a burden.
The Boy Scouts got it right with their motto “Be Prepared.” If you are going to a doctor’s appointment with your Prince or Princess, make sure that you have an arsenal of supplies. First, make sure any questions for the doctor are written down beforehand so that nothing is forgotten. Also, bring a pen and notebook to write down any comments, suggestions, or advice the doctor may have. Get copies of all lab work and ask for prescription refills if necessary.
Many appointment and treatment days can turn into long periods of waiting. Pack water, crackers, fruit, or anything else your “Royal One” may be craving. Think about getting some magazines or Sudoku books to help pass the time. Designate a carryall for appointment days and stock up prior to all appointments.
Staying in touch and keeping loved ones and friends updated on the treatment progress are important, but communicating the news can be tiring for the Prince or Princess. Having to repeat the same information and answer phone calls and e-mails can be exhausting. Set up a personal Web page through an organization such as carepages.com or caringbridge.org. These sites allow you to log on and read all the latest news related to the Royal One. Pictures can be posted, and friends can write notes of encouragement. Many of these sites allow you to create calendars to organize food delivery and other scheduling needs. Have someone other than the “Royal Family” handle this Web page.
All of these suggestions will be helpful to your Prince or Princess, but the most important is to celebrate your friendships. Let them know how much you value them and that, above all, you are blessed to have them in your life. Remember, just because treatment may end, the celebration should not stop. We need to continue to treat each other as Princes and Princesses and celebrate our presence in each other’s lives.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Denise Hazen is author of the book Treat Her Like a Princess, How to Help Your Girlfriend with Breast Cancer. Her book offers advice, insight, and practical tips for women with breast cancer and their loved ones. Denise speaks nationally on issues related to breast cancer. For more information, visit TreatHerLikeAPrincess.com.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, May/June 2010.