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  1. #1

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    How can I help my friends who have cancer?

    Two friends of mine have told me they have cancer. They are both stay-at-home moms with large families-one has five children. I don't want to be one of those friends who says they will be there and then disappear-these women are going to need real help and support in the next months and years of their lives, and I will be there to help them. The most obvious things are providing meals and helping take the kids to school and to after-school activities, but I was wondering what else can I do to help them and their families get through this difficult time.

    I apologize if my post seems a little short or unemotional; frankly I'm still in shock...

    Thanks in advance for any help.

  2. #2
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    Clean the house. Seriously, unless they have a cleaner or housekeeper then someone doing the laundry (especially with 5 kids!) and cleaning the bathrooms is a blessing. Not knowing what cancer or stage, this may not be needed right now but maybe a thought in the months to come.

    What a good friend you are.
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  3. #3

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    ((hugs)) to you for being a good friend, and sorry to hear this news.

    Speaking from my own experience, probably what would work best to ask them what would be most helpful to them, and then do it. They are not only going to be faced with keeping their households running, but also with managing their own care, which is likely going to involve multiple doctor appointments, treatments (and travel to and from all of those as well). Some people may want something as simple as a ride to and from the doctor's; others might want not only the ride but also someone to sit in the waiting room and keep them entertained while they wait, and then to run errands afterwards. It really depends on the person and what they feel works best for them.

    And be reliable. I know that you will be, but if you offer to do something and then you genuinely can't do it, make an alternative arrangement so that whatever it is gets done, and don't throw it back at the sick person to figure it out.

    I would also suggest, and I don't mean this in a nasty way because I know you are genuinely trying to be helpful, that sometimes the way to be most helpful is by respecting what the person wants, even if that means they don't want any help. That doesn't mean they don't really need the help or won't need it in the future, but sometimes they feel more in control of what's happening if they can continue to manage everything by themselves, or at least pretend to continue. If you offer help and they say no, I'm fine, then respect that and let them know you are available. And check back in regularly in case they change their minds, which they may well do if/when they find they really can't do it all.

    There are many posters here who have gone through cancer or who have had people close to them go through cancer, so this is a great place to ask if you have questions. I hope you will draw on that support when you need it.
    You should never write words with numbers. Unless you're seven. Or your name is Prince. - "Weird Al" Yankovic, "Word Crimes"

  4. #4
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    wiery- a good friend of mine battled cancer recently- we took the kids after school- on surgery days and we alternated (between a few friends) doing meals on surgery days and for a week afterwards when she was not up to cooking ans such- i never asked i just took it over and left it on the front door =)

    at my daughters preschool one of our teachers also battled breast cancer and we made her up a chemo basket with tonnes of things to DO while she was getting her treatment- books, crosswords, nice body lotion for afterwards etc she really loved it and she took the basket with her =) she just recently paddled in a race in Malaysia ont eh cancer survivors team and to honour her we all wore pink to the meeting and celebrated her success-
    so there are many ways and btw they are BOTH doing very well and cancer free right now!
    best wishes to your friends =)

  5. #5

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    Lots of good suggestions here. When I was recovering from breaking my ankle and then blood clot complications, whenever anyone offered to help, I took them up on it and would call them when I needed whatever help they offered. So, check with your friends about what they need. And I agree, it's very important to follow through if you agree to do something, or let them know in plenty of time if for some reason you can't do whatever you'd planned, so they can make other arrangements.

    Good for you for sincerely wanting to help out. For some people, they may have good intentions, but then they don't follow through.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by overedge View Post
    I would also suggest, and I don't mean this in a nasty way because I know you are genuinely trying to be helpful, that sometimes the way to be most helpful is by respecting what the person wants, even if that means they don't want any help.
    Agreed. My aunt fought ovarian cancer for 13 years, and she always insisted on everyone treating her just the same as always. I knew her well enough to know that she wasn't putting on a brave front, but that was indeed how she wanted it.

    I recently watched the movie 50/50, which is about a young man who is diagnosed with cancer, and it's really great. Funny and bittersweet.

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    Are there kids involved? Kid stuff was huge, and seemed to have been hugely appreciated. People whose kids were on the same sports team took the kids to practices and games for the whole season, and I know one family even took the kid out for new soccer shoes when she outgrew the old ones. Other families signed up for that family's turn for snacks. Ditto on extracurricular events or carpooling. And one friend who is a really good gardener went over and took care of all the rosebush pruning and flower deadheading.

  8. #8

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    Great of you to offer help -- as someone who has been there, I'm sure your offers are appreciated. Fortunately, I did not have kids to deal with, but things that were helpful to me: loaning me books -- nothing too thought provoking, though as I did not have great mental stamina; rides or running errands for me since I was often too sick to drive myself; distractions -- tell me about you instead of having me repeat my story over and over; the LIVESTRONG survivor's manual (off of their website) -- helped me to organize the hundreds of pieces of medical info that I needed to repeat dozens of times; simple meals (my taste buds changed with the chemo and I craved fruity sweet), and space -- when I was sick, I did not want lots of visitors and fortunately my friends respected that.

    Gifts that I thought were helpful included hand creams (I preferred no scent), manicure kits (my hands took a beating because of the need to constantly wash them); an eyebrow stencil kit from Sephora, warm socks/pj's, and a lap blanket. I dealt with hair loss fine until I lost my brows & lashes -- then I thought I looked like ET -- so the eyebrow kits was nice to have. I bought scarves from the American Cancer Society's TLC website.

    Things that were not particularly helpful: the dozens of angels and other nick nacks with a pink ribbon and books of "inspiring stories" -- I was not building a shrine to breast cancer; too many offers to go with me to buy a wig (I wore scarves); too many phone calls from the same person "checking in" (for me, the limit is about 2/week); too much advice and other stories.

    I found the breastcancer.org website to be helpful and informative, and I generally suggest it for all newly diagnosed folks. Hope that helps.

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    I agree with the suggestion to ask your friends what, if anything, the would like you to do for them. I've had two friends diagnosed with cancer and they responded very differently. One of them really didn't even want to talk about it. She just wants to be treated normally and have us distract her when she needed something to divert her from the anxiety. She also liked trash novels and magazines.

    My other friend shared her diagnosis with anyone and everyone, likes to talk and vent about it, and appreciates sympathy and encouragement. She definitely appreciated help with food and her toddler. And she wanted company whenever she was feeling well enough to have it, even though she knew she looked horrible. (Her poor little daughter initially was frightened of her and the medical equipment attached to her). She was bedridden for a couple of months, so was going stir crazy with too much time on her hands to worry. Probably the thing she appreciated the most was visits and phone calls. I'm pretty sure my own reaction would have been different, but everyone is very different, so it's important to figure out what your particular friends would like.

  10. #10

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    Thank you so much for all the advice and insight. Frankly, I've never had a friend or family member who has cancer, so the learning curve is steep, not regarding the medical issues, but the "getting through the treatment" aspect. I wouldn't have thought of the eyebrow stencil kit or how a chemo patient's tastes change.

    Vacuum, crock pot, lawn mower, and truck are all ready for action...If my friends want the help. One friend said she is facing up to six rounds of chemo over the next few years, so she's going to have a particularly rough time.

    I'm going to visit the livestrong and breastcancer.org sites this weekend, and go over my easy recipes for large families. Note to self-go buy another large crock pot....

  11. #11
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    Wiery, you are already doing it. The fact that you want to and are committed to helping, is the greatest gift you can give. Everything you mentioned and everything others have mentioned are wonderful ideas.

    I had a friend go through chemo. I took her a few times, she usually felt pretty good the day of the chemo, and would feel awful for many days afterward. Because of that, I would take her out for lunch or shopping after her treatments. She enjoyed doing something "normal". Another idea might be treating your friend/s to a massage or pedicure. Sometimes that little pampering time can do wonders for them.

  12. #12
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    If you think they have other friends who would want to help, one thing you can do is set up a Caring Bridge calendar or a CareCalendar calendar on your sick friend's behalf This way, you or your sick friend can be admins and put needs on the calendar. Distribute the URL far & wide, and then all their other friends can sign up for specific needs. Very helpful! You can put anything on there: meals, babysitting, transportation, personal grooming (like hair washings, etc.). It's easy for you to see who signed up for what & when. You can put meal likes / dislikes, etc.

    http://www.caringbridge.org/

    http://carecalendar.org/

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by milanessa View Post
    Clean the house. Seriously, unless they have a cleaner or housekeeper then someone doing the laundry (especially with 5 kids!) and cleaning the bathrooms is a blessing. Not knowing what cancer or stage, this may not be needed right now but maybe a thought in the months to come.

    What a good friend you are.
    This was the single thing that drove me crazy during chemo. When things are untidy and you're too sick to deal with it AND stuck at home and staring at it all day it's unbelievably frustrating. Great suggestion.

    Quote Originally Posted by KCC View Post
    Gifts that I thought were helpful included hand creams (I preferred no scent), manicure kits (my hands took a beating because of the need to constantly wash them); an eyebrow stencil kit from Sephora, warm socks/pj's, and a lap blanket. I dealt with hair loss fine until I lost my brows & lashes -- then I thought I looked like ET -- so the eyebrow kits was nice to have. I bought scarves from the American Cancer Society's TLC website.

    Things that were not particularly helpful: the dozens of angels and other nick nacks with a pink ribbon and books of "inspiring stories" -- I was not building a shrine to breast cancer; too many offers to go with me to buy a wig (I wore scarves); too many phone calls from the same person "checking in" (for me, the limit is about 2/week); too much advice and other stories.

    I found the breastcancer.org website to be helpful and informative, and I generally suggest it for all newly diagnosed folks. Hope that helps.
    I completely agree with all your do's/don'ts. Follow your friends' lead on what they need. Everyone reacts a bit differently. Some people can ask for help, some people really struggle with it. If one of your friends is a no help, leave me alone kind of person and depending on the situation, you might be able to be the person that filters requests.
    "Beautiful things don't ask for attention." -The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by KCC View Post
    Things that were not particularly helpful: the dozens of angels and other nick nacks with a pink ribbon and books of "inspiring stories" -- I was not building a shrine to breast cancer; <snip> too much advice and other stories.
    OMG, thank you for saying this. My husband died of brain cancer last Christmas, and all throughout 2010 when he was sick, I thought I was going to start hitting people who told me stories of everyone they ever knew who had cancer. Not helpful. Didn't make us feel better; in fact, it got to be tiring and depressing. And the "inspiring" messages? Save them. If having a positive attitude is the cure-all it's touted to be, and he died anyway, does that mean his attitude was bad?? In fact, I would argue that a cancer patient is the EXACT person who is entitled to have a bad attitude. There seems to be this widely accepted notion that all cancer patients are super heroes who are upbeat and positive and carry on with their lives while under treatment. Too much pressure on them to try to fit this mold.

    From what I've experienced, many people have become pretty blase about cancer, especially breast cancer, because (a) lots of people have it and (b) survival rates are going up. Just remember that your friend isn't a statistic and this is serious sh**. (This is more of a general comment, not specifically to the OP. The OP sounds like a wonderful friend who will do everything right!)

  15. #15

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    Hi, something I can think of is try to behave with them normally. I mean, don't constantly treat them like if they could be dying in any moment. I have a close relative with cancer and she told me something she hates is the husband treating her like if she's dying. I try to behave normally with her (making jokes, talking about normal things) and not asking her 100000 times a day if she needs help. If she needs it, she will ask for it.
    I work in hospitals and I've noticed that one thing that patients really appreciate is being treated normally, there's no need to constantly talk about their illness and/or other sad topics. IMO if/when they'll feel the need to talk about it, they will, but the fact that you have cancer doesn't mean it must be the topic number one of all your conversations. When you're sick one thing that really helps, IMO, is having a good laugh with your friends.

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    For a close friend, I made a batch of pasta sauce and froze it in ice cube trays and portioned 3/4 cooked pasta into freezer bags. She did chemo that whacked her eating pattern. Having "instant" food was very important to her. She's recovered and makes it that way herself now for instant dinners for her kids.

    Another friend needed help with gassing up the car. I never even thought of it, but the fumes made her feel sicker. Having the car fueled was such a small thing, but it was the right thing.
    AceOn6, the golf loving skating fan

  17. #17

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    Skaternum, I'm sorry you lost your husband.

    Thanks again, everyone for the wonderful advice. I've learned so much in the last 24 hours!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Aceon6 View Post
    Another friend needed help with gassing up the car. I never even thought of it, but the fumes made her feel sicker. Having the car fueled was such a small thing, but it was the right thing.
    Great idea. It's the practical, necessary, and everyday things that are the most helpful IMO. Of course it depends on where someone is in their treatment and what stage the cancer is at but if you're a friend you should be able to suss out what's appropriate when without taking over their life or routine.
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