Mothers are wired to want to help everyone, but it can be challenging knowing the best way to help a loved one who is dealing with cancer or another disease. It is often unfamiliar territory and a sensitive topic.
I was working as a loan officer when my two aunts were diagnosed with breast cancer and I founded the Fight Like a Girl Club as a way to show my support for them. But what began as a small online store selling a few T-Shirts has grown into a support outlet for over 35 cancer types and 40 diseases/disorders. We provide support for women and their families all over the world who are dealing with disease and illness. The Fight like a Girl Club is a place for women to share their stories and find inspiration; it also offers easy ways to help a loved one through fundraising.
Here are my suggestions on how to help your loved one cope with cancer and illness.
(1) Be Sensitive: Less is more, at least in the beginning. Someone who has recently been diagnosed with cancer is still trying to digest the news themselves. Each person deals with this stage in their own way, keep what you say simple for example things like; “I’m here for you” and “I care about you” are perfect. If you don’t know what to say, listening and being present can be just as comforting.
(2) Lend a Hand: Don’t just offer to help, help. Cancer patients already feel like they are being a burden. If you simply ask if they need help, they will typically say “no.” No one likes to feel like they are burdening people. So, instead of asking, just do! Say things like, “I’ll be by at 6 p.m. on Wednesday night with dinner” or “What time are the kids done with school? So I can pick them up.” Taking a proactive initiative to helping allows them to accept that it’s ok to need a little help right now along with reinforcing that you are there for them.
(3) Cancer? What Cancer?! Help keep her life as close to normal as possible, especially around holidays and special occasions. Depression can often accompany cancer. If she and her family celebrate Easter and she has little children, do things that will help her keep her traditions and not have to break them because she is ill. If this means going out and buying Easter baskets for them well before Easter then so be it. If she is a fanatic when it comes to Halloween decorating, find out where her Halloween decorations are and spend an afternoon turning her home into the ‘spookiest’ one on the block. It will help keep her spirits up.
(4) Look Good Feel Good: Battling cancer is an overwhelming challenge that wreaks havoc on all aspects of your life but patients don’t need to be constantly reminded of it. When you’re visiting, look around at her immediate surroundings. Are there dead plants that she has been too weak or too preoccupied to water? Is the sink full of dishes? Is there enough dust on the table that you could write your name in it? These are all constant reminders to the cancer patient of her unraveled life. Jump in there and give the plants a drink, wash the dishes, tackle those dust bunnies. You won’t believe how much this will mean to her.
(5) Withstand the Rush: When someone is first diagnosed, their loved ones often rush in to help and be there for her. But as time wears on those well meaning offers to accompany her to doctor appointments, bring dinner, run errands and help with daily tasks dwindle. Treatment can take time and people go back to their own busy lives. Try to be as consistent as you can. Remember that as treatment progresses it can often become more difficult both emotionally and physically. Make a pact with yourself to stand strong with her, support her, root for her and help her throughout her entire journey.