It’s not easy seeing someone you know go through chemotherapy. It can be challenging to know how to act or what to say, which leads to many people making themselves distant and hoping that the cancer treatment will go away if they ignore it. This happens all too often, even with family members and good friends.
Although it can be hard finding out someone you care about has cancer, we believe that facing it head-on together can make a big difference. This is the best thing you can do for yourself and your sick friend / loved one.
But we do know that even though you want to offer the support you might not know exactly what to do. So we have some tips on how you can help throughout your friends' chemotherapy journey.
Let's start with you! When finding out a loved one, a close friend or even a colleague is about to have chemotherapy, as well as thinking about your friend's emotions it is important to address your own feelings. It is perfectly okay to feel a range of emotions from sad, angry, scared, or even numb.
If you are having a hard time, there are a range of people you can talk to. Remember, whatever you are feeling, try to be sensitive and empathetic to your friend with cancer. It’s okay to tell them you are upset but don’t let it lead to them having to comfort you. You may want to talk to them about how you are feeling, but there a probably other people you can talk to that are more appropriate.
It can be very hard for someone with cancer to ask for and receive support. The most important thing is to take your friend's lead. Although we always suggest not to offer advice that the cancer patient really doesn't want to hear. You may want to help but unasked for advice in this situation can do more harm than good. Please do be mindful that dealing with chemotherapy medications and their side effects can be tough and they will need the support of a good friend - YOU.
When someone you know gets cancer, you may want to do everything in your power to make them better and help out. Sometimes this can lead to that person feeling overwhelmed. It is impossible to predict your friend's feelings with regard to their chemotherapy and how this is affecting their life.
Always ask for permission before visiting, as it is vital to give your friend space to relax. Try not to get frustrated if your friend has to cancel plans, chemo can be extremely tiring, so please be forgiving and flexible.
When you know someone has cancer an easy option is to avoid the friend or avoid the subject. This happens a lot. We know that it is not easy to know what to say. The most important advice, however, is not to avoid people with cancer when they may need you most and to pay attention to clues when you speak with them, whether they want to talk to you or not is up to them.
Chemotherapy can be very daunting and someone with cancer facing the thought of chemo can go through a range of emotions. There is no right or wrong way for you or someone with cancer to behave and we cannot advise whether talking about it is a good idea as everyone deals with their emotions differently.
Talking it through might help your friend, however, they may want to talk but find it difficult, and/or it may make them afraid of the reality of the situation. Sensitivity is definitely required and you will need to judge the situation and perhaps ask the person whether they feel comfortable talking about their cancer and treatments.
The best thing you can do for someone with cancer is just to be there for them and perhaps help them feel normal. Let them know you are there to talk whenever they want to. Sometimes just having you listen is all they need. Don’t avoid talking about their treatment, but don’t make it the topic of every conversation. Sometimes they won’t want to talk about it and a ‘normal’ conversation might be just what they need and the best way of supporting them. And if you don't know what to say that's OK, you could just let them know that.
Although it is our nature to ask questions, sometimes questions might not be welcomed and can cause a person with cancer to feel uncomfortable. Asking politely if it’s okay to ask a question can be helpful to many people and making sure they know it’s okay to say no if they don’t want to answer or if they don't want to talk is alwasy appropriate.
Giving advice and suggestions in these situations is also difficult. You may want to help by offering advice and it may be that case that you find something familiar to relate to their situation. This is fine if you have been in their situation, but remember everyone’s treatment is different. What worked for you might not work for them and negative stories about their situation are never helpful.
Saying, “I can listen if you need me to” or “let me know if you need any help” might not be viewed as a sincere offer of help and it is often hard for someone to ask. It is better to make concrete offers of help such as “can I get your grocery shopping” or “shall we go for a short walk together? Practical suggestions for ways you can help are listed below.
Another way to be there is to offer a helping hand, do practical things like their daily shopping or give their house a quick clean. Although these tasks might seem mediocre to you, they can take up a lot of energy from someone going through chemo and can help make a big difference to their lives.
Chemotherapy can go on for weeks. Even when people with cancer have a lot of friends and family it can be hard to find a person (or people) to commit to taking a cancer patient to and from their appointments.
Added to this is the fact that the person with cancer may need extra support at this time.
For example, they may
So knowing that there is someone they can rely on to take them to their therapy can be a major boon in their life.
It's important not to forget that the person's spouse, children, parents, and other friends and family may be going through tough times also. They may need some emotional support after your friend's cancer diagnosis or practical help whilst they are dealing with the cancer patient.
If you are a friend or a distant relative, visit and check in on the family. Ask their partner, children, or parents how they are, and offer your help if they need it. Long hospital appointments and stress can be exhausting for a close relative. Offer to cook some meals for the family or help with child care.
Simply asking how a partner, parent, or child is doing can show that you are supporting the whole family and an offer to help with the family might take a bit of weight off the cancer patient's mind.
Some helpful things you can offer to help with on a day-to-day basis, to help life feel a bit more normal for your friend and their family include:
Dietary restrictions on someone with cancer are usually imposed due to metallic tastes, loss of appetite and dehydration caused by treatment. So it is important to recognize that what your friend with cancer might have previously loved to eat before their diagnosis, may not be suitable after therapy sessions.
In addition, straight after chemo they may not feel up to cooking for themselves and may need your help. Knowing what to cook for a chemo patient is not easy, so it's best to ask what they may feel like eating after therapy.
Some people pre-cook meals and leave them in their friends' house to eat when they feel up to it. Others visit after chemo to make sure the people eat. How you and your friend deal with the logistics is up to you, but making sure the cancer patient eats at some point is a good way of supporting them.
There are many thoughtful gifts that can help with chemo, its side effects and convalescence. These are discussed in other articles on this site, but here are a few examples of things you could buy and things you could do.
You might want to consider a fun chemo gift, if appropriate such as any of the below.
Or something more practical
Or perhaps uplifting?
There are also several companies and charities around the world which offer freebies for chemotherapy and cancer patients as below
Creating a chemo care package for your friend, colleague, or loved one is a perfect way to show you care. It can be a little confusing as to what the care package should entail as everyone responds to chemo treatment differently.