25 things to do for a Cancer Patient

I’m always being asked, “what should I do for a cancer patient??  My answer is always the same:  “It doesn’t matter what you do, but please do something!”  Every kindness is never forgotten.  Many friendships are lost because cancer patients are ignored during treatment.  Being 3.5 years out from Chemotherapy, I have never forgotten one kindness extended to me.  Watching my sister go through Chemotherapy, it becomes even more real. And I learn from my sister that many cancer patients are stubborn!  When I ask my sister, “What can I do to help you?”  her usual response is, “Nothing, I’m trying to act normal.”  Knowing firsthand, there is no normal during chemotherapy, I ask her:  “How is that working for you?”  Finally, I get truth from her when she answers, “Not very well.”

If a friend or loved one is going through chemotherapy, trust me, they can use some help and lots of it!  Here is my Top 25 list of ways to help:

1)  Offer to take them to Chemotherapy and give them dates that you are available to do so.

2)  Drop off muffins at their front door — most cancer patients can manage to eat a muffin.  Lower fat content is best.

3)  Money is always an issue with 98% of cancer patients.  Cancer is so expensive no matter what insurance they may have.    A grocery store or drug store gift card, no matter what the denomination, would be extremely helpful.

4)  Send greeting cards and send more than one.  One of my dear friends sent me a card every week for one year!!

5)  Flowers are always welcome but ask the florist to send the least fragrant kind.  Some cancer patients are not able to be around fresh flowers, so if in doubt, ask a family member before sending.

6)  Mow their grass.

7)  Drop a small gift at their front door.  Often the cancer patient is just not up for visitors.  But a small gift will bring much hope.  I found many a gift just sitting at my front door!  What joy it brought me!

8)  Offer to weed their garden or water their flowers during warmer months.  My cousin and her husband came and planted my outside flowers when I was too sick to do so.  Their kindness still brings tears to my eyes.

9)  Offer to pick up groceries for them.  Going to the grocery store is one of the most challenging things during chemotherapy.  A dear friend of mine called me every week to see if I needed anything.

10)  If they have children, offer to watch the kids, offer to take the kids to school, or pick them up for school events.  This is so helpful for moms going through chemotherapy especially on their worst days.  Moms going through chemo are the women I most admire!

11)  Drop off soup or a casserole for the family — if you are dropping off food for the patient, be sure to ask what they are able to eat.

12)  Send them a cute chemotherapy hat as a gift.  This will lift their spirits.  Check them out at my online store FBlogoI will include a gift note card and special gift wrapping at no additional charge.

13)  Pedicures and manicures are not allowed during chemotherapy because of the risk of infection.  If it is a close female friend, offer to paint her toenails or fingernails.

14)  Offer to clean their house for 2 hours.  Set a time limit because staying too long will exhaust the patient.   Cleaning is on the bottom of the list of things cancer patients are able to do.  Offering to sweep for them, dust for them, or change their bed clothes would be much appreciated!!

15) Do their laundry.

16)  If they have a cat, change their cat litter for them.  Chemotherapy patients are not supposed to change cat litter because of germs!  This is something I do for my sister on a regular basis which she greatly appreciates and so does her cat!

17) Many agencies offer services or food or money to cancer patients, but the cancer patient does not have the energy to pursue this.  Do it for them, but be sure to ask their permission!!

18)  Send a card to their spouse or significant other to show they are not alone. The cancer patient will so much appreciate your support of their caregiver.

19)  If the cancer patient needs constant care, offer to sit with the cancer patient to give the caregiver a break.

20)  Offer to fill their gas tank or wash their car!

21)  Tie balloons at their front door to cheer them up!  I will never forget my aunt tied a “Congratulations” balloon at my front door on my last day of chemo!  It still brings me joy to think of it!

22)  Send them a list of things you are able to do for them with your telephone number – let them know you are really serious about helping them.

23)  Ask them if you can research something for them – often older patients who don’t access the internet, don’t know things that will help them feel better during chemo.

24)  Take out their garbage, especially if they live alone.  I finally got my sister to admit this was extremely hard for her to have the energy to dump her wastebaskets and haul her garbage can and recyclable bin to the street for garbage pickup.

25)  Ask if they are up for a 30 minute visit.  Do not stay too long.  It is very tiring for the cancer patient, but a short visit helps lift the spirits!

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5 comments

  1. Thank you – this is a huge help because you just do not know what is the right or wrong thing to do for someone going through treatment.

  2. Great list! I definitely had lots of food deliveries — both to feed my family and something more geared towards what I was up to eating (usually just rice pudding!). I wanted to also mention an idea my cousin had. My son was 11 at the time, so every time I had a chemo appointment, my cousin would take an activity to my mom’s house after school and work on it with my son. Then he would give the gift to me when I came home from chemo. Ideas included homemade cards, making a bouquet out of vegetables and just little gifts for him to give me. It was a great way to give him some attention while I could not, and a way for him to feel like he was involved in my treatment and care. It was one of the nicest things anybody ever did for me. I also had gifts of pajamas, books on healthy eating, scarves for my head, and movies to watch while I recuperated. People were just so wonderful and generous. Thanks for reminding me.

  3. I look back at that time and don’t know how in the world we got through it. I was 42 years old with a 15 year old son who didn’t drive yet. I drove myself to all treatments except one. My son would go with me, but couldn’t help get me home, because he didn’t have his drivers license yet. I was a puker, so I traveled with bags to get sick in on the way home. 7 trips to the doctors to build up my blood after each treatment, 30 minute commute each way to the doctors, I would pull my car over to puke in a bag, and then get us back on the road to get to the doctors for that shot, praying all the way I would get us there and back in one piece. My parents lived in another state. They came down a couple times during treatments, to help me with running my home, because hubby traveled. They couldn’t stay the whole time, so mostly I was on my own. My son learned then how to clean the house, and do simple meals. (14 years later….he’s now a great hubby with household skills 😉 ) Chemo was hard on me. I had low blood counts, pneumonia, and almost died, following this, I had the main vein in my left arm stripped out, because they put all the chemo and antibiotics in that arm. I spent a month in a hospital so I wouldn’t lose that arm. In between all this horror I did everything that I could to live a normal life. With the exception of my parents driving the distance of 2 states to give me a hand during a couple of treatments we were on our own. Not much help offered from anyone, with the exception of a couple of meals in a 8 month long battle. Everyone worked and had lives; I guess they were too busy. I needed the most help the week following each treatment. I am not the type of person to ask, and I found out some people won’t offer. One reason I got as sick as I did, is because, I was alone when my blood counts plummeted. I should have called 911 and gone right then to the hospital, but I waited to go the next day, and I almost waited too long. Chemo and radiation are hard enough, but when you have very little support, it’s really bad.

    • I cried when I read your blog post – not only for how rough you had it and how awful it was, but I cried that you made it through and are still alive 14 years later! There is so much HOPE even after all you went through. Thank you so much for posting so that others know to help those going through cancer treatment. I am always saying, “One kindness will never be forgotten” by a cancer patient. We don’t have the energy to say thank you sometimes or even write a thank you note, but that one act of kindness will forever be in our hearts.
      THANK YOU! Oh so glad your son’s experiences made him the great husband he is! Denise

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