“All that matters is not to lose the joy of living in the fear of dying” – Maggie Keswick Jencks.
Someone you know, a friend, colleague or a family member has been diagnosed with cancer. How would you react? What would you say or do? If you asked me these questions, I would be at a loss, totally. Worried that I might say or do something stupid, I would prefer to just do nothing at all.
But not after reading this resourceful book: “What can I do to help?”- by Deborah Hutton.
Being a cancer patient herself, she has beautifully compiled her own experiences and the views of fellow members of the ‘cancer club’ to show us simple ways to be of service to the person suffering from cancer.
I have put together some of her ideas that might be helpful while giving care or helping the caregiver:
- Find out if you’re welcome to help. If it’s a ‘no’ accept gracefully.
- Volunteer to gather information about the best treatment options, the oncologist, or who to contact for the second opinion, insurance options and others that I’ve mentioned in part 1 of the caregiving series.
- Offer to be a clinic companion – good company can make gruelling hours of wait and treatment less stressful.
- Offer to do chores, cook dinner, entertain friends and relatives, reply to messages and emails. Cancer is one of the diseases which drains you of every ounce of energy physically and emotionally in unimaginable proportions. Add to that the side-effects and pain related to surgery. Even small favours like making a cup of tea will be appreciated.
- Once she’s decided on the course of action (with your help or not), respect and support her decision, whether it’s to undergo treatment or not, the type of treatment or decline further treatment.
- Find out about support groups or someone with the similar type of cancer and help your friend get in touch with them. It helps a lot to have a meaningful connection with someone going through the same ordeal.
- Find out about palliative care nurses. They know exactly what to do and can help not only the patient but also the family in dealing with the shock.
- Tune in to her feelings. While cheering her up is important, allow her to be sad, fearful, even defeated. Be a safe sounding board. Try to be the person with whom she can express whatever she wants without worrying about how it sounds.
- With all the surgery, chemotherapy, weight loss/gain and hair-loss, physical changes will keep happening. Help her keep up her self-image by a make-over of her wardrobe. Gift a headscarf/ turban, make-up kit, offer pedicure and manicure services- anything that would make her feel she’s the same adorable, attractive person.
- Give cancer-vacations by offering the gift of a life experience. Have fun together whenever she has the energy. Don’t forget to record happy moments as photos, videos, blog or journal.
- Care for the carer. As I had mentioned in Part 2 of the caregiving series, it’s often the primary caregiver who takes the brunt of the fear, anger and bitterness which can be emotionally wearing. You can step in and give them a break.
- Don’t pity or cry, leaving her the awful task of having to comfort you. If you’re not emotionally strong, better to call or email.
- Don’t treat her differently, which is awkward to both of you. Offer help matter-of-factly and be of service as if it’s part of your duties and no big deal.
- Don’t say things like ‘I know’, ‘you’ll be fine’, ‘you can fight it out’- might sound like encouraging positivity but actually very annoying to a person who has a life-threatening disease to handle and faces unpleasant treatment ahead.
- Don’t try to force your preconceptions and personal health ideologies on her.
- Don’t suggest alternative therapies unless asked for and you know exactly what you are talking about.
- Don’t overstay unless you’re begged to stay. If you’re unsure, then allow her to rest while you occupy yourself with reading, knitting or any chores that need to be completed, so that she’s not under stress to entertain you.
- Don’t stop her if she wants to talk about dying and forward planning. It can come as a huge relief for a person whose time is limited, allowing them to enjoy the time that’s left.
- Finally, don’t worry if you still feel lost. Just be there for her when she needs you the most. We all learn from trying circumstances. And sure, you can learn the most from your friend herself, while you forge an enduring bond of friendship through the good, bad and ugly cancer days.
I hope this was useful. Please write to me how you feel about the caregiving tips. You might like to read the post on understanding dementia.