Many people have found themselves in an incredibly tough situation: a family member, a friend or a loved one has just told you that they have been diagnosed with cancer and you have no idea what to do or say next. First, recognize that you’re not alone. Most people are at a loss when they are faced with this type of situation, but many cancer patients cite their support network as the main thing that helped them through the toughest moments of their treatment and recovery processes.
When you don’t know what to do or how to support a cancer patient, it’s easy to just try and fill the empty space or the silence and perhaps do too much or not the right thing. If you’re in that situation, take a second, breathe, and see if one of the following six ways to support your loved one would be appropriate at that moment:
- Be available – Many individuals who are going through a tough time need to know that they’re not alone. Make sure your loved one knows that you’re there and you can be there for whatever they need. Whether it’s a ride to a doctor’s appointment, a hot meal when they’re not feeling well or maybe just a trip to the movies to take their mind off of things, you can show your support for a cancer patient by just being there.
- Listen – It is perfectly ok to not know what to say. Many times your loved one will just need you to listen as they vent, sort something out vocally, or just want to talk about anything but their cancer. Listening is the greatest gift you can give at that point in time.
- Do your homework – Regardless of whether you’re in the doctor’s office or not, your loved one may start talking about a lot of medical jargon. Jot down words that you don’t understand and look them up later. Research their treatment options with them and make sure they have all the information they need. They are at an overwhelming point in their life and may need the help. Some resources that may be helpful to you are the American Cancer Society website and The National Cancer Institute. There are also many websites dedicated to specific strains of cancer like BreastCancer.org and The Colon Cancer Alliance .
- Stay positive – It will be hard to watch your loved one go through everything they’re about to endure, but a positive attitude can make a world of difference. Sometimes they won’t want to hear it but being positive is a powerful tool in your caretaker toolbox that will help them through particularly tough days. Be prepared with a list of words of support for the cancer patient in your life that really reflects both their personality and your relationship with them. Phrases like “This too shall pass” don’t necessarily work for everyone.
- Connect with other caregivers – While everyone’s situation is different, you can still find support and relate to others who are caregivers or loved ones of cancer patients. If one of your parents is the patient, seek out other sons and daughters who have been in the same situation. The same goes for husbands, wives and significant others. Just knowing that you’re not the only one who is experiencing what you’re going through can be enough to help you face another day. Some resources that may help you include resources from the American Cancer Society for caregivers, information from the Cancer Support Community, and Cancer.net resources .
- Take care of yourself – You cannot take care of anyone else if you aren’t taking care of yourself. Find ways to give yourself a break on regular basis. Pamper yourself, even if it’s a hot bubble bath in the evening or a good book that you enjoy on a weekend afternoon. Find support networks that can assist you whenever possible.
While being a cancer patient isn’t easy, neither is watching a loved one endure the multiple battles that come with a cancer diagnosis. Arm yourself with as much information and support as possible so that you can stand ready when you are needed.