Living with cancer is a marathon. It is mentally and physically exhausting for the patient and their caregiver. It is a disease that leaves no part of their lives or family untouched.
The daily needs change fast. Life quickly begins revolving around doctor appointments, second opinions, surgeries, treatment, and unexpected complications. When this exhausting disease is coupled with children at home, life becomes overwhelming.
We had a newborn and toddler at home by the time he was five months into a two year prognosis. We spent countless hours away from them in the clinic, emergency room, and had multiple hospitalizations. A time of life that should have been spent soaking up baby snuggles and toddler giggles was shadowed with the reality of life and death decisions.
Unfortunately, my family’s story is not rare and cancer does not care if you are young, married, and in love with your growing family. In the last 18 months, I have connected with dozens of other young cancer wives and moms. One common statement we all hear is, “Let me know if I can help.”
This is kind. We appreciate it. We also don’t know what we need help with. All we know in the moment is our lives are dictated by chemotherapy and managing the side effects of cancer.
Here is a list of 10 specific ways to help a family living with cancer.
1. Meals. Prepare a meal or send them a gift card for a ready to bake meal or restaurant. If you are cooking a meal, ask them if they have any dietary guidelines or preferences. Taste buds are ever changing for chemo patients and toddlers.
2. Shopping. Ask them for a grocery and household shopping list. Gift cards for grocery stores that deliver were life savers. Target runs become a thing of the past.
3. Babysitting and playdates. Give them a calendar with your open dates to babysit for appointments, a rare date night, or a nap. Let them know if you are available in case of emergency room visits and if they can call you in the middle of the night. Take their kids to an activity to keep their mind off cancer and on being kids.
4. Appointments and rides. Offer to take the patient to appointments or sit with them at treatment. Again, give them your availability. When my husband was hospitalized during the last six weeks of his life, I had a list of friends who would come and sit with him when I needed to go home. I also had friends to take me to and from the hospital because I was too physically and mentally exhausted to drive.
5. Laundry. Washing, drying, and folding children’s clothing, bedding and linens is especially helpful. Ask if they are comfortable with you washing their personal items. A dear friend washed and folded ALL of our clothes so neat when my husband was hospitalized. This memory still brings a laugh and smile to my face, finding my drawer full of clean underwear!
6. Cleaning. Come to their house and clean or gift cleaning services. This household chore is one of the first to be neglected because there is no time or energy.
7. Yard work. Offer to mow the grass, weed, rake leaves, or shovel snow. We had little elves who simply showed up from our neighborhood. They put fresh flowers on our porch, raked the leaves, and cleared our driveway of snow before we even had to ask.
8. Lunch. Call and ask if they want cheese on their burger. Decisions are endless in fighting cancer. I often didn’t care what I ate. As long as the food was hot and not from the hospital cafeteria.
9. Buying and wrapping presents. Whether it is Christmas time or a birthday, offering to shop and wrap these gifts means a joyful celebration is not forgotten and less stressful.
10. Greeting cards and phone calls. A simple way to brighten a cancer patient or caregiver’s day is to send them a funny or inspirational card. Through my husband’s cancer journey and now as a widow, it always warms my heart when I see a card in the mail just to say hello. Be gentle with phone calls and text messages. Understand and respect they will read and listen to them, but may not have time or emotional energy to call you back. Keep calling. It helps us feel “normal” and not as isolated to hear what is going on in your life.
Above all, contact them with something you want to do for them.
Be specific and take a decision off their to do list.
An hour or two of your time is precious time they can focus on making memories with each other.