When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, it took us completely off guard. No shocker there. No one can ever anticipate cancer. My immediate reaction was to be an emotional hot mess, and scream “it’s not fair.” But then I quickly realized that is not what my mom needed – an angry, bitter, and resentful daughter. She needed a cheerleader. She needed someone to lift her up when she couldn’t lift herself. So that’s the mission I set out on along with my dad and our immediate family and friends. She needed us and she needed God. And she needed us to support and encourage her in practical ways.
As I searched the holy grail of Pinterest and “the Google”, I was shocked to find little to zero ways to support people battling cancer. Sure there were a few ideas that I took off with and made my own, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t find more. I mean, there were the “pray, support, encourage” ways that all good Southern Baptists know already. However, I needed and wanted more because as great (and necessary) as prayers are, sometimes we need the tangibles too – the reminders around the house when we can’t go anywhere else, things that make us smile when all we want to do is give up, and so on. That’s when I vowed to change that once my mom was over her battle. If I needed those ideas then surely others were desperately searching too.
So I’ve narrowed it down to 10 practical ways that you can support someone you know with cancer. Maybe you can’t or aren’t able to do all of these. And that’s ok. But I pray these will give you some guidance when you want to help and you just don’t know what to do. And, you can know – by me sharing first hand – that each and every one is greatly appreciated by the person fighting for their life.
- Focus on the Positives
As if being diagnosed with cancer isn’t bad enough, the chemotherapy drugs used make cancer patients extremely sick. Instead of focusing on what chemo would do to my mom’s body and her physical (and emotional) well-being, my dad and I were determined to make it positive. Because without these drugs, my mom would not have a fighting chance. My advice is to be sympathetic but positive and encourage them that they will get through this and these drugs will save their life.
I also gave both my mom and my dad a journal for them to try to write down 1,000 gifts throughout this journey. Not only do cancer patients need to be reminded of all the blessings despite cancer, so do their caregivers.
2. Chemo Countdown Posters
One thing that my mom loved was being able to take her poster I made her and cross out each treatment as she finished them. This kept her focused on the end result, as well as reminded her all that she has fought thus far. They don’t have to be Pinterest worthy, and they don’t require a ton of money. They just require a little imagination, some poster board, markers, and bright colors. Get the kids involved and let them help. And then at the end, make a “Last Chemo Day” poster to help them celebrate that phase of the battle being over. Because it is the hardest one.
3. Numbered Chemo Gifts
I think in some ways my mom was a little sad when chemo was over because she got a small gift at each treatment. For every chemo treatment, I made her a numbered bag that coincided with what treatment number it was. Inside would be something encouraging, fun, or something handmade by our son. Gifts don’t have to be expensive, just thoughtful. And it keeps a positive outlook on the treatments they are enduring.
4. Radiation Chain
These are so easy to make, and they are just like any other countdown chain you would make to lead up to something great. For my mom’s, I just bought different patterns of pink (for breast cancer) scrapbook paper and cut them into small strips and stapled together. The number of chain links will correspond to the number of radiation treatments they have. Another great addition to this would be to add a Bible verse or word of encouragement on the back of each link for them to read every day.
5. Get Children Involved
We did not hide what my mom was going through from our son, which is always a personal decision. But by getting him involved, he was able to make sweet things for his nana. We know we can’t hide all the pain in this world forever from him, but we can get him involved in being part of the encouragement and healing. Kids love to help…so let them! It’s such a great teaching tool also.
6. Organize a Card Schedule
Think outside the box on this one and ask people that you may know as well as those your loved ones know to participate. About halfway through chemo, my mom got really sick and depressed. This is normal because the reality sets in, they are sick, and they are sick and tired of being sick. So I simply but a request out there on my social media platforms and was overwhelmed with the response. Some people I knew, some I didn’t, and some I do now. They flooded my mom’s mailbox with sweet words of encouragement. I cannot tell you how many hundreds of cards and comments she got, or how much that did for her soul. Simple words go a long way.
7. Be an Advocate
Sharing your loved ones stories (as long as they are in agreement) is a great way to spread hope and encouragement to others. We never know what battles people are facing. For others to be able to witness my mom’s strength and faith throughout her battle is something we will never know the full impact of. God will not let any struggle go without glory coming out of it, if we let him use us. And be their words when they don’t have the strength to share them. Maybe they are too tired to share, or feel like they are being self-centered by sharing too much. So share for them. Advocate for those who need it.
8. Organize a Meal Schedule
This is something us southerners pride ourselves on. We can whip up some meals or have them delivered. We love to eat and we believe in the healing power of food! But spread it out. Remember that the caregiver is exhausted too and doing more than their share of the duties around the house along with caring for their loved one. Meals are a great way to help them out too. We tend to bombard people with all kinds of casseroles and crock pot meals immediately, and forget that they still have months of need ahead of them. Spread the love out over a long period of time. Most cancer patients take up to a full year to endure treatments and overcome those side effects.
9. Have Their Homes Cleaned
This is a fantastic way to help. But do it when they are gone to treatments and not at home. Having too many people around agitates cancer patients, and they are usually resting 24 hours a day.
10. Don’t Forget the Primary Caregiver
We tend to focus on the person who is sick and inadvertently forget about the primary caregiver. This is almost always a spouse, child, or parent. Seek ways to encourage and support them. Don’t leave them out. They are fighting physically and emotionally as they watch their loved one fight, and as they take on the stress of looking after them. Offer to sit with their loved one while they go and do something small for themselves, even if it’s just talk to clear their head. Bring them meals, help with daily house or yard work, send them cards, pray for them, and just be there to listen when they need someone to cast their burdens on. They don’t always need advice, they just need ears to listen.
I could probably name a multitude of other ways to support someone you know with cancer. These are the catalysts that really got my mom through her battle and I pray that our struggle will now help others.
If you or someone you know is battling cancer, I would love to talk to you. We also have a prayer wall on our site. Our mission here at Our Not So Engineered Life is to let others know they are not alone, no matter what struggle they have. We would love to pray for you, and our faithful prayer warriors would love to as well.