Many feel helpless when they learn that someone they know has cancer. They want to show they care without being a hindrance but are uncertain what to do. When I'm asked, "What should I do to help?", the first thing I do is ask what their relationship is with the individual and the family. This shapes my response. Below you will find a list of things that you can do to help. Think about how close you are and what might feel comfortable for you both. Remember that caregivers are also going through a difficult time. It is generally helpful to offer them support too. When you have read through the list, scroll to the bottom and read the additional tips.
For those who are close friends or family
visit the hospital
sit with your loved one and keep him/her company during hospitalization
attend appointments to offer support and a second set of ears
take notes during appointments
help with household tasks
assist with physical needs, if necessary (dressing, toileting, bathing, eating, etc)
clean the home and disinfect frequently touched items such as the toilet flush handles, telephone, television converter, etc.
launder and change the bedsheets in the home
offer assistance with sensitive tasks such as finding a wig or headwear, purchasing clothing
help to set up a system for external communication, eg. care pages, facebook group
help with the care of the children
For family, friends, colleagues, neighbours and aquaintances who may not be part of the immediate circle
visit the hospital with permission, being sensitive to the fact that the individual is ill
drive to appointments (this can be done for both patient and caregiver) helps with parking fees and ease & walking
run errands, eg. grocery shopping
help with seasonal related tasks eg. fill Christmas stockings, put up decorations and put them away, hide easter eggs
prepare meals (tips: use containers that do not need to be returned, arrive promptly at agreed upon time)
be an in-house chef for one or more meals
prepare school lunches for the children
set-up a meal contribution plan from the workplace or for school lunches through school parents
pick up the children for school, take them to appointments, activities, walk the children to and from the bus stop
offer your company during treatments (chemotherapy can take several hours, company can be a good distraction)
look after the children either in their own home or at yours
take the children on an outing
offer your prayers, a mass or service dedication
shovel the driveway and/or sidewalk
plant a front door planter
build a snowman on the front lawn
dedicate a radio song
create a "thinking of you", cheerful or humorous video
taking part in external communication venues by leaving your well wishes (eg. Care Pages)
help or contribute to fundraising efforts, if applicable
visit, watch a movie or sports event together
see the list of suggested gifts below
For those who may not know them directly
offer your support through fundraising efforts, if applicable
make a donation
do something nice for someone you know
say a prayer
Gifts Gifts are also helpful to show caregivers that you are thinking of them too.
fruit basket/fruit bouquet
healthy meal (non-returnable container and delivered at agreed upon time)
a pot of soup (non-returnable container and delivered at agreed upon time)
pre-made and homemade salad with toppings for a quick healthy option (non-returnable container and delivered at agreed upon time)
magazines and or a good book/magazine subscription/inspirational bookmark
notebook or journal
colouring book and colouring pencils
comfortable pair of slippers/fun socks
shawl or a wrap
game or travel game (great for transport to hospital)
gift card for a massage (even better if it's from a place that is already a favourite or frequented by the recipient)
purchase a Netflix subscription
music (CD, playlist, list of music video links, private concert, etc.)
entertainment package eg. movie tickets or theatre tickets for when they are well or for a caregiver's night out
DVD box set
flowers / plants for indoors or outdoors
basket of teas
make a donation to a cancer related organization in their name (even better if it is specific to their type of cancer)
Tips: When children are involved Always ensure that children are notified if someone will be spending time with them, picking them up, etc so they are aware that permission for this has been granted. Always ensure that those responsible for the children, when away from parents, (e.g. coach/school, etc) are given permission by the parent/guardian to release the children to the care of someone else (be specific about the identity of that person) Be aware that parents have their own special way of talking with their children about cancer. It is best to leave discussion related to the illness and wellness of those involved to the parents (unless requested otherwise). Children are also going through an emotional time. Young children generally show their feelings through their behaviour but are unable to answer why questions (eg. Why are you behaving like this?). Be supportive and sensitive to their needs.
Food related help When offering food items, be alerted to allergies and food sensitivities, special diet, likes and dislikes. Use containers that do not need to be returned Arrive with food items promptly at agreed upon time. Keep in mind that sweet treats may be very much appreciated. Be mindful that the individual may be trying to eat healthy to be in the best physical state possible for managing treatment or eliminating risk of cancer recurrence. It may be helpful to inquire first.
Visits Be aware that arriving for an unannounced visit may be disruptive to the individual, family and/or caregivers. Plan ahead. Don't be offended if you are asked to wash your hands when arriving at someone's home. With suppressed immune system, every caution is taken to avoid bringing outside germs in. Be mindful of the length of your visit. Ask every once in a while if the timing is ok or if the visit should be cut short. Fatigue for those who are unwell can set in quickly.
Thank you While thank yous are nice, keep in mind that your help will be appreciated even if you are not acknowledged for it right away. Cancer requires a tremendous amount of time and energy. Writing a thank you or making a phone call may not be possible right away. Recipients will generally show their gratitude in their own time (even months later).
Your help can ease the cancer experience for patients and caregivers. Be part of their team in a way that is comfortable for you and for the recipient.