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Helping a Loved One Through Cancer: Surgery, Treatment & Terminal Illness

When someone in your life receives a cancer diagnosis, you want to be there for them to help as much as you can. Offering vital support throughout their cancer journey, from first diagnosis to treatment and care, is invaluable.

Sometimes all that might be needed is a friendly face to visit. Just giving up a little time to make a visit means you’ll also be helping the immediate caregiver, by giving them an opportunity to take a break.

It’s always helpful to call first, just to make sure it’s a good time to drop by. Don’t be offended if your friend or loved one is feeling too tired or unwell for visitors. If they’re not up to it, try again another day. Always be sensitive to their needs and moods.

Don’t worry about what to do – just squeezing their hand, patting their arm or giving them a hug can say much more than words. You don’t always have to talk; after all, it’s your company that matters. Maybe you can go for a walk or watch a movie together.

Practical Support

If you’d like to bring a gift, think about something useful, from magazines and books to music, a journal or a gift certificate for a treat like a spa day. You might prefer to choose something practical, such as buying supplements that might be able to help with sleep, pain reduction or boosting energy.

If you will be visiting a friend or loved one who is going through chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or has been diagnosed as terminally ill, always offer to bring something, such as:

  • Food and beverages, especially when they are ready-to-eat or just need to be warmed up
  • Tea or coffee, one who has recently had surgery may not be able to simply go to a local café
  • Magazines, books, DVDs, or other sorts of entertainment
  • Hand sanitizer, soap and anti-bacterial wipes, to keep hands and surfaces clean
  • Something that they would find comforting, such as brand-new pyjama’s

If you are ill or feeling unwell, even with something so simple as a tickle in your throat, you may want to hold off on visiting your loved one until you are of better health, to help avoid getting them sick as well.

Help Through Chemotherapy, Radiation, Surgery and Terminal Illness

Some people worry about saying the wrong thing to someone with cancer. By simply using your own words to show interest and concern, you can also express encouragement and offer support. Letting someone know you’re thinking about them and are there to talk is a great place to start.

Be a good listener, keep eye contact and let your friend be the leader. If they want to talk, then talk. Maybe they just want to sit quietly and are happy to know you are there. If they are upset, don’t be scared to let them cry as tears are a natural response to distress and can be an important release.

There’s nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know what to say or find things difficult to talk about. Just saying this can help the conversation and lessen any feeling of awkwardness.

Don’t offer advice unless you’re asked for it and if your friend needs medical advice, suggest speaking with a physician to ensure their best health.

Remember, it’s okay to laugh. Humour can be a helpful way to cope with threats and fears. If your friend wants to laugh, help them smile.

Helping Hand

There are many more practical ways you can offer to help and support someone with cancer as well as their caregiver and make a real difference to their daily lives. Instead of saying, “Just call if you need anything”, be specific and offer to do household chores or collect prescriptions. You could drive your friend to medical appointments, help to look after the children or make meals for the family. Or pack a bag for a treatment appointment, including items like snacks, beverages, magazines, music and self-care items.

Reference: Canadian Cancer Society

Remember, it’s okay to laugh. Humour can be a helpful way to cope with threats and fears. If your friend wants to laugh, help them smile.

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