When someone close to you has cancer, it can be difficult to know what to say or do. Do you act like everything will be okay, no matter what her prognosis is? Do you make a bunch of freezer meals and drop off casseroles weekly?
There are many things you can do for someone going through cancer. The important thing to remember is that this is about what your friend needs, and you can use your firsthand knowledge about her likes/dislikes to make small gestures even more meaningful.
We’ve compiled a list of tips and thoughtful gestures that can make your friend feel cherished and supported.
- Send well wishes, cards, messages, and texts, but don’t overwhelm her. Set a reminder on your phone, or set a specific day where you always check in, even a simple “thinking of you.” Let her know that she doesn’t need to respond if she’s not up for it.
- Make or deliver meals, and drop them off in containers you don’t need returned. Or have food delivered from her favorite restaurants.
- Focus on the person instead of the illness when you ask her how she is. Ask her what she’s been up to or what she’s reading. Stroll down memory lane or talk about future day trips you can take together.
- If you’re very close to your friend, offer to be the sieve for messages, phone calls, and gifts. Having someone who is able to field concerns and well wishes can be a welcome relief for your friend so she doesn’t get overwhelmed or tire herself out trying to respond to everyone.
- Don’t offer medical advice.
- Make frequent, shorter visits rather than lengthy stays that may exhaust her. Call ahead first to make sure she’s up for it.
- Accept her coping mechanisms. We all have different ways of handling stress and sickness. Understand that if she grows distant, she’s just trying to grapple with this huge change. Be there for her when she decides she’s ready for company. If she’s angry or lashes out, understand that anger and frustration are part of the process. Love her anyway.
- When you visit, bring along your own book, knitting, or other quiet task, so that you can sit with your friend without her feeling like she needs to entertain you if she’s tired. Sometimes silent companionship is all she needs.
- If you’re the super-organized friend, put your talents to good use by creating a calendar. Mark down treatment appointments, days where friends are delivering meals, and appointments her children or spouse may have. Take it a step farther by making sure that there is a friend or caretaker that can drive her to appointments or at least stop by and sit with her (if she wants that).
- Offer to do the cooking and cleaning around the house, whether it’s once a week or once a month.
- Gift a housekeeper, a traveling masseuse, or a traveling hair stylist/manicurist. Getting some pampering at home (or if she’s up for it, taking her to their place of business) can be a lovely treat.
- Offer to help with special projects she started and is unable to keep up with, like gardening or painting a bedroom.
- Donate to cancer research in their name. Help researchers find a cure for cancer by donating to one of our Gifts That Give More. Your entire donation goes to the cause!
- Has it been a few months since diagnosis? Check in with your friend. The outpouring of support may have died down as she’s adjusted to her illness. Make sure she still knows she has people to rely on.
- Entertain her. Offer to take her to the park or to the movies; buy her the next book in the series she’s been reading; listen to her favorite albums together.
- Entertain her family. Keep her kids busy or take her spouse out for a bite to eat. Take her kids to practices or babysit them for a night.
- Fundraise for her. Cancer treatments are costly. There are several ways to help raise money for your friend, from flamingo flocking to a car wash to specialized bracelets, and more.
- Listen. You don’t need to offer advice or try to come up with a cliche line about how cancer is a journey and she’ll get through it because she’s strong. Just listen. Hold her hand. Tell her that you’re there for whatever she wants to talk about, whether it’s her fears or joys.
- If she’s going through chemo and is losing her hair, buy her pretty head scarves, caps, or wigs if she wants to cover it up; or buy her gorgeous earrings if she wants to flaunt her baldness! Take her shopping or order with her online.
- Tell her you’re there for her, and mean it. Ask your friend if she needs anything, and be specific. She probably doesn’t want to be a burden, or may not even know what she needs unless she’s prompted. Ask her if she needs anything from this list!
C. Dixon likes to read, sing, eat, drink, write, and other verbs. She enjoys cavorting around the country to visit loved ones and experience new places, but especially likes to be at home with her husband, son, and dog.