Holy fucking shit, someone you love has cancer. WTF do you do now?! Get used to this feeling. It’s going to be uncomfortable and painful to watch your person as they take on this awful disease. And you can’t do anything about it except bear witness. But you can be a beacon of light to them while they go through treatment and beyond.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Their journey is their own.
Some people want to talk to others who have been through a cancer experience. Some people don’t (I didn’t). Either way, cancer is a complex disease and even if the name of the cancer is the same, the treatment, staging, and experience is unique to each person. You can offer up resources to your person, but try to frame in a way that’s more “If you’re interested…” versus “You should talk to…”
- So is their treatment plan.
Unless you’re a medical doctor, your opinion is not wanted or necessary.
- Listen more than talk.
It is wholly overwhelming to hear your have cancer. Then, having to make decisions (sometimes within hours or days) gets added to that overwhelm. There is so much information that gets thrown at you in the early weeks of diagnosis. Try to be mindful of not adding to that chatter. You can be an ear and give thoughtful responses when requested.
- Keeping showing up.
Some cancers are never “cured” (like mine). Some cancers keep coming back even after someone has been declared in remission (I’ve been in remission twice already). Keep being available. Keep checking in. Keeping showing the love.
During treatment (chemotherapy), these are the things that I personally LOVED receiving to help aid me:
- Gin Gin’s Ginger chews and (eventually) hard lozenges.
- Aquafor (3 small bottles, perfect for keeping in different parts of the house). Chemo has a tendency to dry out your hands and feet (in addition to the potential for neuropathy), so it’s a good thing to keep handy.
- Or really nice lotion. Like Kiehl’s. Or Crabtree & Evelyn. My recommendation for the former is their Creme de Corps. It made me feel so pampered. And from the latter, their Lavender Hand Cream.
- Comfortable men’s style pajamas — you know the kind, with a button up long-sleeve top and pants that have actual real pockets. (Don’t miss this key ingredient: yes, please, always on the pockets.)
- Blankets. I received an assortment of plush blankets in addition to two remarkable handmade quilts. I brought them to chemo, I used them at home, and thinking of the friend who gave them to me made me smile.
- Food. If you live close by, bring them their favorite coffee, a smoothie, soup, or donuts (sidebar: I totally posted on Facebook how I really wanted donuts and my friend came by a few hours with a dozen). If you’re a bit farther away, consider an alternative to food. I was send one of the most amazing bouquets I’ve ever received from Farm Girl Flowers. They also have other non-flower items (sidebar: flowers can be touchy because they are living and then they slowly start dying in front of you… I can get how some people might not be stoked on that) like candles, and other boxes of goodies. Sometimes they’ll have succulents, which would address the earlier sidebar. There’s also quirky stores like Uncommon Goods that have fun items your person may enjoy.
- Heating pad. For everything. Chemo is bloating and constipating and heat really helps.
- Your Netflix password. Or Hulu. Or HBO Go. You get the idea. This one I didn’t need, but if this poor person has no access to the boob tube, it gonna be a loooooooong and more-than-slightly depressing treatment. I watched a lot of Gilmore Girls, nature documentaries, children’s movies, and stand up sets. Fluffy was the key.
I wish you nothing but peace as you navigate this with your person. You can do this. They can too.