As we said in our Lessons in Pink blog back in October, it isn’t just scientists or nurses or oncologists that make a difference to cancer patients; we all can. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to know what to do, how to help, and where to focus, especially when you also may be reeling from your loved one’s diagnosis.
How you help doesn’t have to be big or extravagant. “It’s quite the opposite, actually,” says Jenn McRobbie, breast cancer survivor and author of Why Is She Acting So Weird?: A Guide To Cultivating Closeness When A Friend Is In Crisis. “Sometimes the best things you can do for your loved ones—and yourself—is to keep it simple.”
Here are eight things to consider when helping those with cancer and other long-term illnesses.
1. Send her texts to let her know you are thinking of her.
“I never got tired of seeing texts that said, ‘I’m thinking about you. You don’t have to respond. I just wanted you to know you were on my mind,’” adds McRobbie. “It removed any requirement to return the favor or say thanks or engage if I wasn’t feeling up to it. I could just soak it up.” You can also add funny memes, a random word-of-the-day, or a quick emoji to this list.
2. Make a meal.
Whether you opt for a pre-made frozen dish that can be popped in the oven at her convenience, a simmering crockpot full of ready-to-eat goodness, or gift cards to her favorite pizza place, meals are a great way to extend her ability to care for her family. Make sure you are attentive to dietary needs and restrictions so that your good intentions don’t go to waste.
3. Celebrate the ordinary.
“When your life is turned upside down by a crisis, ordinary feels wonderful. Ordinary feels consistent. Ordinary feels life-affirming,” says McRobbie. Think about what you normally do with her, and find a way to do that. It could be as simple as a hearty hug or a cup of coffee.
4. Be sneaky.
Some women feel guilty for taking help and not being able to reciprocate, for not being able to deliver a heartfelt thank you, for not always fully appreciating the thoughtfulness. By removing your name from the equation, the gift can be just a gift, without the strings of a thank you.
5. Send a card.
Make it funny. Make it heartfelt. Don’t overthink it. Just send one in a bright envelope. It will balance out the medical bills.
7. Don’t wait for her to ask.
Offer. Chances are you’ve known your friend for more than a minute, and therefore know her daily routine, where she shops, and what activities her kids are in. Step up. “Asking for help is hard,” says McRobbie. “It’s much easier to say yes or no.” And how you offer is important, too: “Would it be helpful if I [fill in the blank]?” If your first offers are rejected, let her know that the offer stands even if she may not need it now. Remember, it’s not her job to make you feel helpful and needed. Repeat #3 in the meantime.
8. When she asks, pay attention.
Again, asking for help is hard. Respect the process, confirm what she needs, and then be dependable.
In the end, the most meaningful gestures come from the heart. “Fill your heart with the love you have for your friend, and you will know exactly what to do,” says McRobbie. “I promise.”
When a loved one is in crisis, it’s hard to sit by and do nothing. So don’t. In fact, this is precisely why The Maids became involved with Cleaning for a Reason, a non-profit organization geared toward helping cancer patients rest and recover by donating professional cleaning services. We understand better than most that life gets messy, even without cancer. We believe people should play to their strengths when helping those in need, and we feel compelled as a company to do the same.