Helping a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer

Helping a loved one diagnosed with cancer.  What can I do to help?  This is a question many ask me.  There are several things you can do.

If you can afford to donate money to their cause, that is helpful.  I had help with all of my many flight back and forth to New York

But while financial donations are appreciated, the donation of time is often valued even more.  Maybe you can help with child care.  My kids were 10 and 11 when I was diagnosed, and my wonderful mother-in-law was there to take care of my kids for the many several day trips to New York and for the two weeks I was there for my surgery.

Encouragement is good, but PLEASE don’t tell them they have to think positive to beat cancer.  They don’t.  Studies have shown that attitude has nothing to do with cancer survival.  We don’t tell people to think positive or their broken leg won’t heal!  I personally felt depressed and angry and hopeless sometimes.  I couldn’t talk to those who told me I had to think positive.  They right away said, oh no, you can’t beat this unless you think positive!   Then I couldn’t talk to them when I needed someone to talk to. My best friend was perfect, she listened to me cry when I was so afraid of dying and abandoning my kids.  She just listened and understood how I felt.  Jimmie Holland, a woman who was a physician and psychiatrist who helped patients with the emotional aspect of cancer, wrote a book called “The Human Side of Cancer: Living with Hope but Coping with Uncertainty.   A wonderful chapter in her book was titled “The Tyranny of a Positive Attitude“, you can read it here.   You don’t get cancer because you are stressed or depressed, and you don’t make cancer go away by thinking positive.  Cancer is a biological disease.  People who think positive die of their cancer, and people who think negatively may live for decades.

If you visit in the hospital, it is great to encourage the person to be out of bed and active, it will help their healing and prevent complications.  You can say “Hey, do you want to go walk in the hall?”, or try to get them to sit up in a chair to play cards or games with you.  Good gifts are books and music that help distract them from pain and being in the hospital.   Find out what they are allowed to eat or drink, and if they can have it, bring some!  I love to drink unsweetened sparkling water, not something hospitals have!

And best of all, just be there to listen.  If they are afraid of dying and want to talk about dying, that’s ok, I needed to talk about that,  If they want to talk about how depressed they are, or how angry they are, that’s okay.  Just be there to listen to whatever they need to say.  I twill help them get past the difficult feelings.

If anyone has helped someone with cancer and would like to add their advice here, that would be appreciated! You can add it as a comment here, or if you want, start a conversation on the forums!