How To Help A Person Diagnosed With Cancer

This is Joel Nowak from Cancer ABCs.  I am here to talk to you about how to ask if you can help somebody when they have been diagnosed with cancer.

A friend or a family member has been diagnosed with cancer and you want to be as helpful and supportive as possible, but how can you provide the assistance that they really need?  This is a question that many of us ask , sometimes even knowing what to say to a person who has been diagnosed with cancer can be difficult no less knowing what specifically what you can do to help them.

You want to continue your relationship with the person, more importantly you want to be helpful, but you just don’t know how to do that.  

What do you need to know to be able to be helpful?  

First, you need to remember that a person who is living with cancer is still the same person they were before they were diagnosed, they just have cancer.  What is different is that they will need to feel your support, and they may need your assistance with many everyday requirements and tasks they will face in their everyday life.    They will need, more than ever before, to feel support from their family, from their healthcare team, their friends and you as they wind their way down the twisted path of cancer land.  

It’s a fact, people who are living with cancer and who experience high levels of support report that having this level of loving and caring allows them to better deal with whatever cancer throws at them and whatever twists and turns their journey takes.  

It is important for a person living with cancer to know they are still loved, that people are concerned about them and that they will be able to rely on others when they need assistance or help.  The many Cancer Thrivers who are fortunate enough to have high levels of support, tell us that even in their bad days are made better and easier by the support they receive from their families and from their communities. 

When you are trying to figure out how to help it is important to remember that not everyone finds it easy to ask for assistance.  Many of us, including those of us with cancer are fiercely independent, and we want to remain this way no matter if this goal is or isn’t realistic.  

Many of us Cancer Thrivers don’t want cancer to change our life, and we don’t want cancer to remove our independence.  We want to find ways to continue to live our life as fully, happily and healthfully as possible.

Despite this desire to be independent some of us will spend hours every week going to doctors, suffering through treatments and their side effects.  After this experience, for some of us, the last thing we want to do is talk about cancer. Others of us will need to talk about our cancer and our treatments in order to process and put our experiences into prescriptive  

When you spend time with a Cancer Thriver you should take your cues from them.  If they don’t want to discuss their cancer, their treatment or the side effects, then don’t. Don’t ask about it, and don’t raise the subject unless they first raise it to you.  

If they do wish to talk about it your main job is to just LISTEN. They need someone to hear them, so let them share what they wish, encourage them, empathize with their experiences and their feelings.  Never make light of their feelings, just acknowledge them and let them know that you feel their pain.

Obviously, each of us is different, both our physical and mental needs are different.  We are all different people, so what will be helpful to one of us might not be helpful to other.  

Loving caregiving, or support giving is important.  It is vital for you to be proactive and think about how you can help your loved one.  

This means that you need to be specific, not general, in your offers to help.

There are so many ways you can offer support. But sometimes it's hard to know where to start and how to ask. 

Your first instinct might be to say, "Let me know if there's anything I can do" or "How can I help you?" People often make these kinds of general, catch-all offers to help. But, as well-intentioned as these offers might seem, they might not actually encourage your loved one to ask for help.  Honestly, they can ring somewhat hollow, despite there being very sincere.  

Instead, it is best to try to come up with some of your own thoughtful ideas of how you might help. Does the Cancer Thriver have children? Ask if you can help transport their kids to school, to baseball practice, or orchestra rehearsal or another child’s party. Getting the kids to their destinations is only one half the task, get them home also.  Offer to babysit when they go to their next doctor’s appointment or when the side effects of the treatments are just at their worse.  If they have dietary restrictions as a result of their treatment, you can find a few recipes and of course make dinner a few times a week.  Organize other friends to provide group support, like Joe will provide dinners on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and Mary will cover the rest of the week.  

Help them clean their house, provide transportation to doctor appointments, treatments, or just to the store.  If they are up to it take them to a movie, dinner or to their place of worship. You can also offer to take them for a drive to the country or into the city. 

Chances are, your loved one has more to juggle now than they did before their diagnosis. And of course, they might not be feeling very well. That usually means they'll have less time and energy to accomplish even the simplest of things that were once just part of their daily routine, like cooking cleaning and even personal grooming and hygiene. 

Finding specific ways to offer support is a great way to show how much you care, Cancer Thrivers will be more likely to accept help with their day-to-day tasks, no matter how small if you are very specific in your offers.

You might suggest to a Cancer Thriver that they use one of the many free apps like LivingWith™.  LivingWith is designed to help people manage a loved one's care and update friends and family on their status and easily convey requests for help with daily tasks like meals or rides to the doctors.  

Always remember that listening is key.  If your loved one declines offers for help don’t pressure them to accept it. Try to be flexible and understanding.  Maybe 

 On the app, you can build a circle of support with friends, family and loved ones, and easily convey requests for help with daily tasks like meals or rides to the doctors.

Always Remember that Listening is Key

If your loved one declines your offer for help, don’t pressure them to accept it. Try to be flexible and understanding.  Maybe you offered to help with cooking, but they view cooking as a break from the stresses of the day. Listen carefully to them so you can learn what they really need.  Listening carefully can give you more ideas to better help the Cancer Thriver.

What’s more important is that you’re there for them. As the American Cancer Society’s Caregiver Resource Guide reminds us, “Sometimes the simplest expressions of concern are the most meaningful. And sometimes just listening is the most helpful thing you can do.” Even if your loved one doesn’t need your help this time, they may ask you for something else in the future.

The bottom line is : Reach out

Try your best to anticipate your loved one’s needs rather than waiting for them to reach out to you. They’ll appreciate you all the more for going above and beyond to find ways to help.

I would like to close this podcast with the following:

Sometimes the simplest expressions of concern are the most meaningful. And sometimes just listening is the most helpful thing you can do.

This has been Joel Nowak for Cancer ABCs.