Monday, November 02, 2015

How to help

Last week, on my facebook page, I shared a list of ways to help those going through chemo/cancer treatment. The list was pretty popular and was shared more often than anything I've posted. Someone suggested I post it over here so that more people can read it, so here it is.

This is the list of things that I think are ways to help those going through a hard time. Some of these things people did for me. Some of them others shared were done for them. And some are just things that I think would have been nice if someone had done.

This list, is of course, not all encompassing. Reading some of these might give you other ideas to help. Follow your gut. You know your friend/family member best so do what feels right for you to do for them. But if you need a place to start, I think this is a good jumping point. 

  • Set up an account at and share with those who can help bring dinners
  • Set up an account at to set up things like dinner/housekeeping/helping with kids/driving/etc
  • Buy a cooler for the family to put by their front door so when people bring meals they can put it in there and not have to ring the doorbell if people are resting inside
  • Next time you are shopping, buy an extra toilet paper pack/paper towel pack/laundry detergent/dish soap/etc ... the things that we all use every day but don't necessarily buy every day so that they are stocked up and it's one less thing to worry about
  • Buy groceries you know they will like and deliver to the house
  • Send your friend books/magazines/word search/cross word books/etc - some chemo infusions can take 8 hours. That's a lot of time to sit at the infusion center and lots of time to pass
  • Buy your friend something that is their hobby (i.e. for me, buy yarn ;-)) Yarn, art supplies, a cross stitch kit, a build your own model kit, or a coloring book or whatever makes them happy
  • Chemo can dry you out. Bring your friend chap stick, lotion, biotene mouthwash, etc. BUT make it UNSCENTED. Chemo also heightens our sense of smell and scented things probably aren't going to go over well for a lot of people. Same thing applies to lotion/body wash/candles/etc
  • Give a lap blanket to take to chemo or use when watching tv
  • Buy them some shoes that are easy on and off. Sometimes chemo makes your feet swell or gives you neuropathy in your feet. Easy on/off comfy shoes are a big deal. 
  • Scarves, hats - both knit hats for colder days and lighter hats for warmer days. 
  • Help your friend go pick out a wig. Or be with them when they shave their head. Or offer to shave their head. Do not tell them it's only hair and it grows back. It is, but it doesn't help to hear that sometimes.
  • offer to take their kids with you (if you can) when you take your kids out. 
  • offer a night out to the caregiver - you come over, bring a movie or tv series and allow the caregiver to get out.
  • If the person going through cancer is married and has kids, take the kids one night and bring over some fancy(ish) food for the couple to enjoy. Date nights tend to not be a priority during all of this, so give them a taste of it if you can
  • Offer to take your friend to a movie, out to eat, to the mall to window shop, a walk in the park, a drive to your favorite cafe, etc. BUT remember to be flexible. If your friend cancels because they aren't feeling well, it's not YOU, do not take it personally. Even if they cancel ten times in a room (though if that happens, think about if you're offering to take them to somewhere YOU want to go, or somewhere s/he would like)
  • Be prepared to say nothing. Sometimes silence is golden. Sometimes we just need someone to listen, to nod, to let it all out. You don't need to have an answer or a way to fix it. Just listen.
  • Come over and clean. Don't ask. Most people won't say they need it, but do it anyway. 
  • Send little notes in the mail every so often. Your friend is probably getting a lot of bills in the mail. Something that is not a bill, would be lovely. 
  • Have a favorite song you think your friend should listen to? Or a book? Or a movie? Buy it for them. I think itunes let's you buy specific things and gift to people. Amazon might as well. Share. 
  • During chemo, a person's immune system can be compromised and a trip out just isn't in the cards - get creative. A friend knew there was a movie I REALLY wanted to see, so she took me to the drive-in. I got to see the movie and avoid germs. And get a night out of the house. Win-win-win. 
  • Support their treatment choices EVEN if it's not what *you* would do. On the same vein, do not send them every "cure" you read about on-line. Do not tell them about your cousin's-friend's-sister's-uncle's-wife had the same cancer as them and died an awful terrible death that just tore apart the whole family. 
  • Do not tell kids (if they involved) that they have to step up and be the man/woman of the house. Those kids have enough weight on their shoulders. Just love them and treat them as you would treat other kids their age.
  • If you want to give gifts, and the health is good enough, don't just give toys/things, also give gifts of experiences - passes to the zoo, movie tickets, etc. Time is precious and while more toys and more toys are fun, sometimes the family also need time to just do something fun. A night of minigolf can be priceless.
  • It is better to offer to do something than ask what you can do. We might not be able to think of a specific thing to tell you, but if you offer, we'll say yes please. We might still say no, do it anyway. Asking for help is hard. Accepting help is hard. But come over and wash dishes anyway. 
  • Give a journal so they can write things down (if that's something your friend would like).
  • Offer to help spread news among other friends/family/etc. Whether that's making phone calls or setting up an e-mail list, often times there are many people who want updates and it's hard for one person/family to be able to talk to everyone and let them know what's going on.
  • Offer to go to doctor's appointments and take notes. Lots of information can be thrown at people in a short amount of time. Go and just be the note-taker. Before the appointment, ask them if there are any questions they want to ask and also ask those questions at the appointment as well. It's easy to forget in the appointment what you wanted to ask.
  • Chemobrain is real. Your friend might seem "flaky" Be understanding and patient. Again, it's not personal. 
  • Help the person write thank you cards to others who have helped as well. 
  • Give them movies/tv shows/etc to watch during the days when they need to rest or need treatment or whatever. 
  • Audio books are a good idea as well. Sometimes chemobrain can make reading a book hard, audio books can be easier for some people
  • If you have the talent, offer to shoot family pictures (or individual pictures) or get a photographer in. Many people have found comfort in getting those photos done.
  • If you can gift a few months of netflix, hulu, amazon prime, hbo go, etc, then do so. There might be days where doing things is hard, or long days at the doctor's office. Having something to just watch and relax to, can be a good thing. 
  • If you have the strength, and your friend is suffering from joint/bone/etc pain (which can happen in a lot of treatments) that make them wheelchair bound (temporarily or long term), come over and push them around the block. Get them outside. It can make a big difference in a person's mood to just get outside for a bit.
 There are lots and lots of ways to help. Just start wherever you can start. In a way that you think is needed for your friend.

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