Cancer touches our lives in many different ways. Maybe someone you love has been diagnosed, perhaps a coworker or a friend. It might be that you are close with someone who is a caregiver. Many people want to provide some type of help or assistance for that person and their family. What is the best way to do this?

Having cancer is very different for people, some share the diagnosis openly, others do not tell a soul. There is no right or wrong way to manage your emotions, it is a very personal decision. As well, no person can or should have an opinion on the decisions an individual makes. When I was diagnosed, I expressed everything openly and publicly. I felt it important for others to understand the process for me and for my family. Just because I was the one diagnosed with breast cancer, my entire family went through cancer.

My children were 10 and 12 when I was diagnosed, my husband kept us all together and instilled a sense of confidence and normalcy in our daily life. But in the following years, my younger son dealt with anger management issues and my husband has mental health issues. It is possible that these issues came about coincidentally, but dealing with a loved one having cancer takes an emotional and physical toll on those close to you. So what do you do?

Just because you have been diagnosed with cancer, does not mean you will have the same experience. Each person is very different, therefore each situation is too. I think it is important to know the boundaries that the person or the family might have. Not everyone wants a visitor at all hours of the day. Please, as a friend or loved one, understand what the patient is going through. Are they tired, are they unable to manage emotionally, or have they had one too many banana loaves!! Call first and see what might be appreciated. My dad was fantastic, he came over all the time and I am grateful for that. He always brought fruit over, watermelons particularly. Really appreciated, but one can only eat so many melons! At a certain point, my husband started to regulate the visits, in the kindest way possible. There were times when my husband would just tell my dad, I was resting and was not up to a visitor. Those times were appreciated as much as the visits.

What is the deal with sickness and gifts? I get it, I do the same thing. At one point my house looked like a funeral home with all the floral arrangements. Do not take this the wrong way, I love flowers and now I do not get them often enough – so careful for what you wish for!! Here are some ideas that really made a difference for me and my family.

House cleaning services – a group of friends got together and paid for a cleaning service. Did you know there is a foundation called They actually provide services for those diagnosed with cancer. If you look up the link here, you can find companies that provide this service in your area. I can tell you, that my superman husband tried to do it all, but when these friends presented this gift, I saw the relief in his face!

Meals – a meal service is a fantastic idea. Either friends providing a meal train (a group gets together and does one night a week or whatever the agreed upon time line is), or pre-order pizza for one night of the week. There are places like Supper Central that provide all the ingredients for a meal and you only need to cook it. Healthy meals, all the ingredients and no grocery shopping. This was greatly appreciated and tasty too.

Driving – offer to help with driving, not just for appointments and cancer treatments, but for people with kids. Offer to take a swimming lesson or a soccer game off the families plate. In my experience, those with families strive to maintain their kids activities and keep life “normal” could use a hand with driving. Offering to take their kids for an activity or 2 offers relief and maybe some time for the couple to be together and let their guard down, a big emotional sigh of relief that they can just BE for an hour or so. General chores – offer to walk the dog, mow the lawn, take laundry home or do it there while you visit. You do not need to spend money in order to provide a gift.

I have been around a lot of people who have had or have cancer, I get to hear all about what people say out loud. This happens across the board, in fact, if a cancer survivor like Emily McDowell designs an entire line ( of cards based on what people said to her, you know it is a common thing. The best advice I have for you, is just listen. Don’t compare, don’t give your opinion, don’t out-story them. Be quiet and hear what they are saying.

Some key points:

  • Don’t assume the person feels good because they look healthy
  • When someone with cancer says they are tired, it is an exhaustion that is not comparable to ANYTHING
    a person without cancer has experienced (just saying)
  • Brain fog after chemotherapy is not just forgetting things because of age, it is a real condition and it
    makes us enraged when you compare not knowing where your car keys are versus not being able to get
    in the car and drive from point A to B without a sticky note on your dash board (true story)
  • You know when you think about doing something and then you go to do it and you forget? That happens
    all the time for chemo patients, but we don’t remember in a few minutes – some times it is days. I do not
    remember events that happened and I was there.
  • When you see someone wearing a scarf, don’t mention a pirate theme – not funny
  • When you see a friend and one of her eyebrows has been wiped off because she was excited at her son’s
    hockey game – TELL HER.
  • Many times common sense does not prevail, think about what you are about to say, at times staying quiet
    is the best response

My best visits were friends stopping by with a vanilla latte, or sitting in bed with me writing my thank you cards, the quick drop off of coffee cake and my husband could not even make out who the person was they were so fast!!

Just be there in the moment, it is appreciated.