All too common nowadays we hear "I was diagnosed with cancer". Cancer isn't selective. Cancer doesn't care if you are young, old, male, female; or anything in between. Cancer is actually present in all of us. However, certain circumstances and lifestyle choices will add up and if you happen to be one of the ones that had a predisposition for cancerous growth, it will just happen. There is no way, at this stage in time and knowledge, to tell if you have a high risk or little risk for cancer.
I, myself, come from a family with zero cancer history. I am a sister to 6 other siblings. My parents never had cancer. My grandparents never had cancer. My siblings never had cancer. And yet I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. On a family vacation nonetheless!
Through my journey, it has been hard! Loved ones ask "what can we do? How can we help?" Prayers are sent to uplift spirits. Gifts and donations are sent to help with financial burden. And then as time passes, loved ones start to drift away, while the individual continues to deal with everything that comes with a cancer diagnosis. It isn't anyone's fault. No one is to blame. However, a life changing diagnosis and devastating illness is one of the most lonely things I went through in my whole life.
My husband has a different story. He was my caregiver. He was there day after day, working to keep us financially afloat and then coming home to help me bathe and care for our daughter. My mom was also my caregiver for most of the journey. She helped relieve my husband so he could focus on the financial aspect, which is all too real when paying to fight for your life... My mom helped us with childcare and all the daily tasks that I was too fatigued to perform. And they both needed different things on this journey.
Because this is all too common of a diagnosis, and it can be very lonely, from personal experience, I gathered answers from a variety of cancer survivors and their caregivers to present to you what you can do the next time (or possibly right now) for your friends and family who have received the diagnosis as well.
Of all the responses I read, these are the most common answers:
1) Providing relief to give the primary caregiver a break
2) Encouraging the caregiver go to support groups. Encourage them take time for themselves for Self-Care
3) Home cooked meals
4) Checking in even after the main scare has passed. Be a listening ear and a good shoulder to cry on. Truly mean it when you ask how they are doing and be prepared for whatever they have to say.
5) Help with daily tasks such as, childcare, pet-sitting, meals, house cleaning. grocery shopping, laundry, etc.
Here are the most common needs to Survivors:
2) Music to help with the rough times
3) Help with daily tasks such as, childcare, pet-sitting, meals, house cleaning. grocery shopping, laundry, etc.
4) Help and support for their caregivers
5) Listening, being a shoulder to cry on, allowing them to vent, and truly meaning it when you ask them how they are doing. Be prepared for whatever answer, even if it sounds sad or angry
6) Alone time to rest and sleep
7) Someone to just sit with them, even if there is no talking. Just let them feel your presence and know that you are there.
8) Make them laugh! And give them love and understanding if they aren't in the mood for jokes at the time.
9) No pity. Be honest and open when talking with them. Ask questions if you need to but respect their space and energy. But it never hurts to ask if they're open to talking about it!
10) Comfort items such as soft blanket and pillows from home, warm clothes, shawls, books, cards, movies, music, coloring books, activities to pass the time.
And Bonus: Don't shave your head in support without asking first! Some don't appreciate it. Though some do! Remember, just ask!
Cancer survivorship can be lonely because only the survivor feels the pain of the residual effects of the chemotherapy. Only the survivor feels the shreds of the life they once lived. And when the scare of the initial diagnosis is over, friends and family are able to go about their lives. But it is not so for the survivor and his/her partner/caregiver. They must continue with appointments and treatment, health scares and ER visits, sometimes for years.
What you can do to help a survivor is by continuing to be there. Remind them that they are still in your thoughts and prayers. Call, visit, text, offer a listening ear, offer a break from their daily struggles. You may even be saving a life by uplifting spirits and help keep their fighting spirit high. Because us, survivors... we just want to know that someone is still there. That there is still someone to fight for. Someone who cares.
This Life is already short. To a survivor*, there is the possibility it is gone tomorrow. Show them you care and that you are there for them when they need it. It is an opportunity for you to grow your love 10 fold by being present and truly listening to their answer after you ask "how are you doing?"
Always remember that you can make a difference. Love and Light.
*I don't speak for all cancer survivors. I can only provide my personal perspective and the perspectives of those I have spoken with about how they would feel support.