How You Can Help a Cancer Patient

When someone you care about is diagnosed with cancer, you want to help, but may be uncertain about exactly what to do. Chemotherapy, surgery and radiation can consume enormous time and energy. Here are ways to lend a hand:

  • Become the point person. Serve as the central figure to coordinate volunteer efforts. The point person not only can assign tasks and create schedules for meal delivery, errands and childcare, but also can update others about the patient’s status. This prevents the patient from being inundated with phone calls.
  • Deliver food. A patient is often too tired, weak or sick to shop, prepare meals and clean up – not to mention feeding family members, too. Yet, maintaining good nutrition is critical during treatment. The “point person” should find out the patient’s food preferences (or restrictions), then assign meal times to willing caregivers. Place an ice chest by the front or back door for food drop-off, so the patient won’t be disturbed. Or, if company is desired, plan to share the meal. Avoid creamy and rich foods; focus on lean meats, vegetables, whole grains and hearty soups. In addition to meals, provide healthy treats, such as nuts, dried fruit, whole grain muffins, fresh fruit and fruit juices to supplement nutrition when the patient isn’t up for a regular meal.
  • Run errands. Everyone has routine errands. Even if a patient has time and energy, at times they may not want to go to stores and risk exposure to infections, colds and viruses. Offer to run to the grocery store, drug store, gas station, dry cleaners and other regular spots.
  • Perform chores. There’s also a never-ending list of personal, house and yard duties. Organize a group for house cleaning, yard work, laundry, pet care and other essential household tasks.
  • Offer child care. Children demand a lot of care and attention, and are often scared and confused when a parent is undergoing treatment. Helping a child maintain a normal way of life can help ease anxiety. Offer to carpool, drive to after-school activities or baby-sit. Invite kids to your home and provide fun activities, such as baking or games. Take them to the movies or a special outing. This brings some normalcy back to their lives and helps ease the guilt a parent feels from neglecting their kids during treatment.
  • Conduct research. A patient can feel overwhelmed with all the information they need to amass and understand in order to make major decisions—often with little time. They may need to determine which oncologists, surgeons and hospitals should provide their care or provide a second opinion. Friends and family can conduct Internet research through reputable and trusted cancer sites, such as this one, as well as the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, and other trusted sites. Cancer survivors are another good resource, providing first-person advice. Also consider books, magazines and other materials. Once you collect the information, condense it for the patient, so they don’t have to muddle through a mound of paper.
  • Become a treatment “buddy.” Accompany the patient to doctor visits, tests and screenings. Long hours and boredom await a patient going through treatment. One to two-hour waits to see a doctor or receive radiation therapy are not uncommon, and chemotherapy infusions can take even longer. Also, depending on your relationship with the patient, it’s helpful to have a second party in the exam room to take notes, since it can be difficult to absorb everything the physician says. Finally, a patient may be too drained to drive, so having a “personal chauffeur” for appointments is a much-welcomed luxury when helping cancer patients.
  • Send gifts. Flowers, cards, candles, bubble bath, books, magazines, games, chocolates, pajamas, hats/scarves and anything else that’s fun, humorous, comforting and delicious can perk up a patient – particularly when they are feeling down.
  • Offer companionship. If a patient is up for company, take time to visit one-on-one. Do something fun, like shopping or seeing a movie. Take a walk together. Have tea. Listen to their fears and frustrations. The best thing to do for someone who is suffering is to let them know they are not alone. Cancer makes people feel isolated from the rest of the world. It removes someone from their regular way of life. They have to face their mortality and may lie awake at night, focusing on their fears. Letting someone know you are with them through every step of their journey is the best comfort you can provide.
  • Consider prayer. If you practice it – or know someone who does – do it. Most patients appreciate knowing they are on a prayer list. Cancer brings up fear of the unknown – and the inevitable. Letting someone know you are praying for them conveys they are cared about and are not alone.