How you can help someone with cancer

Just being there goes a long way. But is there more you can do?

We’ve likely all told someone going through a rough time, “I’m here if you need anything.” But what are some concrete things you can do to show your support? We asked Anne Marie Paolucci, whose runs the nonprofit Chemo Comfort, for some ideas. It turns out that there are plenty of little things you can do to make a big impact.

1. Treat them the same

“I was always happy when someone would call and have a normal conversation with me or complain about something going on in their lives — but you need to listen [in case] that someone’s not in the mood that particular day. I remember a friend calling with a problem and then saying, ‘I cant believe I’m telling you this!’ It’s like no, you’re treating me as your friend, and not your cancer patient friend, and that’s a nice thing to hear sometimes.”

2. Be honest, but sensitive
“I always appreciated someone saying to me, ‘I don’t know what to say to you,’ as opposed to, saying things [like] ‘Your hair’ll grow back, you’ll be OK.’ The hair is a big deal because it’s a symbol of so many things. You’re losing yourself and you’re becoming ‘cancer patient.’ And it’s a symbol of what’s going on inside you, it’s like this lack of control and this battle between cancer and chemo.”

3. Help out with errands
 “Stick within your forte. Like if you’re an accountant: ‘I’d be happy to come balance your checkbook.’ A huge thing is medical bills: ‘Can I spend an afternoon helping you go through that?’ If it’s somebody who’s nearby, call when you’re going to the grocery store, the drugstore or the dry cleaners: ‘Can I drop something off or pick something up for you?’ Accompany someone to a medical appointment, or give them a ride to or from.”

4. Bring some cheer

Round up some funny movies and head on over to their place. “Humor’s great,” Paolucci says. “It’s healing. It takes you out of those [dark] places.”

5. If you want to cook, ask first

“Through chemo, there’s things that just turn your stomach for no apparent reason,” she says. “I think it’s worth a conversation saying, ‘I’d like to bring you a meal, what works best for you?’ It’s probably better to stay away from spicy foods or anything that’s crusty or with edges because you have a lot of oral issues, depending on the chemo.”

 6. Be wary of sniffles

“If you are at all unwell, no matter what you said you would do for the person, you’ll do more for them if you say, ‘I think I’m getting sick, be honest if you don’t want me around.’ Because if someone’s counts are down, they don’t want to be anywhere near you. You could put them in the hospital if they end up with an infection. It’s really serious, so don’t think, ‘Oh I’ll just sniffle my way around this, it’ll be fine.’ Really be honest.”


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