Monday, February 25, 2013

"How can I help her?"

Since becoming a cancer survivor, one of my favorite questions to receive is "How can I help her?" When I get this question I know that there is pure love at work. Someone is taking the time to ask a survivor what helped (or would have helped) them get through it. Everyone is different in the way they approach their treatment, how much they want to talk about it, or how much help they want and need.  But my experience, and interaction with numerous other survivors, brings the following suggestions to mind.

As you consider these suggestions, think about how close you are to her and what feels comfortable and natural based on your relationship, time, and resources available.
  • Stay in touch. Call, write, visit. Cancer isn't contagious but it is isolating. Don't be afraid of "bothering" your loved one. She needs all the support she can get. She may or may not want to talk about it. Play it by ear and take her lead but don't disappear. Sadly, many do. Don't be one of them.
  • Organize a meal train where local friends can sign up to bring meals on certain days. Talk to her about how it works, get her and the family's preferences, sensitivities, and include that information on the website you use. is a great resource for organizing meals.  Another great resource is which allows people to organize different types of support needs.
  • Sign her up for "Cleaning For A Reason" - a free cleaning service for women in breast cancer treatment - provided by local cleaning services who join this awesome program to make a difference in the community. If there aren't any participating providers in her area, call local cleaning services to ask if they'll do it, or commit to showing up and cleaning her house for her if you're a close friend or relative that she's comfortable with.
  • Offer to take her kids out for activities with your own kids, or offer to babysit so she can rest without interruptions.
  • Offer to drive her to the doctor, and/or to visit and play cards or talk during chemo. Chemo appointments are long and it's nice to have a distraction which could be quality time with a friend. Bring a packed lunch, a deck of cards, etc.
  • Take her hat/scarf shopping, or pick up cute hats and scarves to bring her to try on at home. Look up free scarves, hats, headgear for cancer patients online. There's lots of great companies and organizations that offer freebies like that. If she wants a wig, the American Cancer Society offers free wigs to cancer patients and they even carry human hair wigs. I wish I had known about this before I spent money on a wig.
  • Put her on the prayer list at church. Pray for her complete healing and recovery, for her and her family's peace and comfort during this difficult time. 
  • Call her before you go grocery shopping for your own family, and offer to pick things up for her while you're there.
  • Sign her up for free and beautiful handmade cards sent by another These cards are comforting and beautiful. I enjoyed receiving them and I've signed up friends who have enjoyed receiving them.
  • Be patient with her. This is a time of great stress, and the treatment is intense and exhausting. The medications impact her physically and emotionally. Her energy will ebb and flow but won't be predictable. Be flexible. She may feel great one day and awful the next. Be forgiving. It's an emotional roller coaster.  During chemo, I received steroids the first few days of every cycle and I was not a nice person on those days but I couldn't help it - the medicine altered my thinking and my moods. I felt awful that I was mean to those who loved me.  Remember, this is temporary.
  • Organize a fundraiser to help her cover unpaid expenses, or to raise money for local, regional, or national cancer research foundations in her honor. Ask her if she has a favorite charity or a special financial need that you can focus the effort on.
Thank you for caring enough about her to ask how you can help, and for following through to support her during her cancer journey. She's lucky to have you on her support team.

Love and blessings,

COMING SOON - what NOT to do or say when a loved one has cancer. 

Galatians 6:2 "Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."


  1. Another thing to do is expect her to not be completely healed after her treatments are done. For some people cancer carries an invisible burden for some time after the actual treatments are complete. :)

    1. Absolutely, Carol! Thanks for sharing this very important tip. It can really take time to regain strength and freedom from all the after effects, and some don't completely disappear, especially if preventive treatment includes hormone targeted therapies like tamoxifen or removal of the ovaries, or if they have lymphedema.

  2. Julie, what a great list of things for someone who wants to help a cancer patient! You always post such wonderful things! I am glad to see you are still keeping this up and I will pray for your friend who is now home on hospice...xoxo