Ways to Support a Friend/Loved One Through Cancer

Cancer is breathtaking when it hits. When you are diagnosed, you find yourself digging deep within to find a button called “survival mode” that you may or may not have ever had to use before. As a friend, loved one, or acquaintance of someone diagnosed with cancer, oftentimes it’s hard to know what to say or do. This is a new journey for everyone and finding a way to navigate through it with the emotions and difficulties faced can be challenging, to say the least.

One of my best friends reached out to me multiple times saying something like this:

“I want to help and sometimes I just don’t know what to do.”

Followed by questions:

“What can I do to help?”

and

“What do you need right now?”

Have you found yourself asking these questions to someone facing cancer? And from the perspective of the person diagnosed, do we even know what we need at the time? (And if we do know, sometimes it’s really hard to come out and ask.)

I wanted to share experiences that I had from amazing friends and family to give you some ideas on how to help someone battling cancer. (This is also a post filled with gratitude as I can’t imagine having faced cancer without all of the love and kindness from each person who was there for us.)

Nicole standing in her parents front yard wearing a pink chemo hat and a yellow shirt with a red heart that reads #nicolestrong.
Shirt created by a friend for a fundraiser for us and a chemo cap donated from MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Also, if you’re reading this and you have cancer, here are a few ideas that you can share with people who are asking how they can help (or you can just send over the link and say “pick one” haha).

Some of these are large undertakings and some of them take a moments time. Just being present, as Wes discussed in his post, Lessons from a Caregiver, is an amazing place to start.

 

Practical Ideas (With Little to No Cost)

Set an alarm on your phone and label it something like “Pray for _____” or “Text _____”. With phones have recurring alarms and the ability to edit their labels, you can set it for every Monday on your lunch hour or each morning when you wake up. Life happens, we get it. So this can really help by reminding you to reach out and/or pray for that person.

On the first of every month, send a letter in the mail with words of encouragement. I saved every letter I received and it always brightened my day.

Send funny text messages, GIFs, or photos of things that make you think of that person. It can makes us feel more like a “human” than a “patient.”

If you live nearby, show up to watch a favorite tv show, movie, play a board game, or do a puzzle of something that interests him/her. You can even read the same book and get together to discuss it from time to time when he/she is up for it. If you live far away, FaceTime is amazing to do, too.

A picture of Wes and me playing Aggravation with my family.
Wes and I playing a board game with my mom, dad, Libby, and Randy.

Tell this person that you love them, care about them, are praying for them, and/or share words of encouragement often. It’s not cliché or cheesy even it feels that way. In our weakest moments, love truly lifts us up.

Create a banner with your group of friends/coworkers. My coworkers made a giant banner with encouraging messages and all of my favorite things printed and taped to it. It made me laugh and smile as we hung it up in the living room and I got to see it everyday.

 

Acts of Service

Drive him/her to appointments and/or sit with them during a chemotherapy session. My mentor and her husband drove 2,000 miles round trip and spent an entire day just to be in the hospital with us. Wes didn’t miss a single appointment, either. Their love and loyalty inspires me every single day.

Sitting in a hospital bed with my mentor Libby as I have chemo administered.
My mentor, Libby, drove 2,000 miles roundtrip to sit with me during chemo. The shirt I am wearing says, “Fighting sarcoma like a princess” that was made by friends as a fundraiser. Chemo blanket and ears that were made by friends are also pictured.

Help with household chores. Whether it’s hiring a cleaning service or stopping by to help with laundry, it can make a huge difference. My parents did so much for us while we lived with them. The primary focus is surviving, and caregivers get exhausted, too. It’s a service to the whole family.

Offer to watch their kids or care for pets. I don’t have either of those, so I can’t speak fully into that, but I am certain that this is something that would help. Whether it’s walking the dog or a play date with kids for an hour or two, it could be a gigantic blessing.

Love on the primary caregiver. Whether it’s getting that person out to get their nails done, going out to a football game, or sending a card/gift to them, caregivers need love, too. Rest and reenergizing is so important for the caregiver to serve their loved one well. Even just hanging out with your friend with cancer allowing the caregiver to see friends or do an activity can help!

Michael and Wes smiling with a football field in the background at a Houston Texans football game.
My brother, Michael, treated Wes to a Texans game for some fun and my mom took care of me during that time.

Schedule a trip to see this person at a time/day that works for them. Week 2 of every cycle was an impossible week for me to see others. When friends and family offered to visit from near and far, we just discussed dates that I would be feeling better. (It’s hard as a cancer patient knowing that you will wear out quickly. Just communicate that with him/her. If you have a “hostess heart” like I do, the feeling that I couldn’t entertain was challenging. So cancer fighters, if friends/family are coming to see you, know that it is because they want to be there, not that they expect anything from you. They are happy with just sitting with you or hanging out while you even if you fall asleep on the couch watching a movie.)

Help with a move. We were unable to fly out of Houston during Hurricane Harvey and coworkers, family, and friends got together to help pack up our things in Colorado. It was so helpful and I’m not sure what we would have done without their help.

Participate in a cancer fundraiser event. My friends from Dallas drove to Houston and made signs and walked in the MD Anderson Cancer Center Boot Walk while I was in the E.R. It meant so much to me when they came up to see me after.

Friends pictured holding signs outside during a charity walk that say "Stomp out Sarcoma" and "Fighting with "Nicole" in front of the "Let's Give Cancer the Boot" sign.
My friends from Dallas drove down to Houston to participate in the MD Anderson Cancer Center Boot Walk while I was in the E.R.

Collaborate to host a fundraiser. We were surprised to get a phone call that a fundraiser was happening in our hometown in Colorado while we were in Houston. It contained silent auction items, free head shaving, and the selling of t-shirts that were made. We were blown away that something like this was happening and we didn’t even know. We cried the whole evening in gratitude.

A large gathering of people praying outside with rays on sunshine beaming down at a fundraiser for Wes and me during treatment.
A fundraiser that was organized by friends, including Zack Parrish, to help fund our time in Houston during treatment.

Make Something. We had 3 different shirts made to fundraise for our journey, someone who collaborated to make a cookbook where all proceeds went to our cause, and friends get together to pick out patches for a “chemo blanket” that was made for me to keep warm during treatment. Whatever you are passionate about or have a skillset for, it can be used to make a difference. Seeing the healthy recipes from the cookbook that I could eat and friends, family, and people I didn’t even know wearing shirts cheering me on meant the world to me. And I took my chemo blanket to every chemo session in the hospital. I knew I wasn’t fighting alone.

 

Websites for Support

Create a CaringBridge or Facebook Page to share updates on their story (if he/she is okay with it). https://www.caringbridge.org

Create a YouCaring/GoFundMe account to help pay for medical bills and share with others. I didn’t ask for one and I never would have. My friends got together and said, “With your permission we would like to do this for you.” It changed our lives. I can never say thank you enough for that. And every person who donated, we humbly thank you with every inch of our hearts. Bills rack up quickly from the hospital on top of normal monthly bills and being out of work makes that even more difficult. If you see that as a need, create this website. Because it is likely that your friend/loved one will not ask for it. https://www.gofundme.com

Create a Meal Train and share with others in the area. My friend didn’t even live in the city where I needed meals and set this up for me. Here is my biggest advice for this (and my friend was amazing with it): find out what the cancer patient (and family) can and can’t eat and does and doesn’t like, and list that on the meal train page. It’s better to do this and for someone to say, “I just don’t have the time and finances to do that” than for a person to sign up to cook/bake and bring something over that can’t/won’t be eaten. She made a Pinterest board filled with about 20 recipes within my dietary restrictions for people to choose. She also said to cook for 4 so my whole family could eat. It was a gigantic blessing to not have to worry about cooking from time to time. https://www.mealtrain.com

 

Gift Ideas (Cancer Related)

-Choose Hope, Inc. offers a full line of Cancer Awareness Products and Cancer Gifts available in all cancer colors. 50% of profits fund cancer research. https://www.choosehope.com

Love Your Melon Beanies are high quality and very nice beanies! Fifty percent (50%) of net profit from the sale of all their products is given to the Love Your Melon Fund to support their nonprofit partners in the fight against pediatric cancer, create therapeutic experiences, and fund charitable programming initiatives for children and families battling cancer. https://loveyourmelon.com

Wes dipping me for a photo taken by Rick Gentry while wearing my Love Your Melon beanie.
Wes dipping me for a photo taken by photographer, Rick Gentry, while wearing a Love Your Melon beanie.

-Drhemotherapy is a shop on Etsy that creates decals to put on IV bags that administer chemo. I’ve seen them in person and they are really neat. Amazing for adults and kids to make the chemo bags look less intimidating. https://www.etsy.com/shop/Dhremo?ref=l2-shopheader-name

-Chemo Kits are unique personalized kits that include a selection of high-quality products that will brighten up any cancer patient’s day. Different kits include one full size face wash, one full size face lotion, one chapstick, one full size acne gel treatment, to help patients deal with the cosmetic side effects of chemotherapy,an inspirational note and/or necklace and bracelet, that will be a daily remember for them to keep going! They have a new kit that includes an inspirational notebook & diamond ball point pen, a chic pill container and ice pack, lip balm, a do-it-yourself, reusable popsicle maker, and a chemo chic head wrap. https://chemo-kits.com

I Had Cancer created a post with a list of companies and products that help for different side effects that occur. Whether it’s radiation burns, nausea, skin issues, or others, there are some great resources here: https://www.ihadcancer.com/h3-blog/11-21-2012/gifts-for-cancer-patients-suffering-from-treatment-side-effects

I am sure that there are many more! I would love to hear from you about cancer related gifts to share with others!

 

Additional Gift Ideas

-Flowers

-Scripture cards (homemade or bought) on a key ring for encouragement

-Inspiring/Funny magnets to see every time he/she goes to the refrigerator

-Necklace with an inspirational word on it – For example, The Giving Keys does this. https://www.thegivingkeys.com

Wes and Nicole standing smiling after they have their heads shaved prior to Nicole losing her hair through chemo.
Wes and I right after having our heads shaved. I am wearing a necklace from The Giving Keys that says “Courage” from a friend that sent it to me.

-Essential oils (if that is something he/she would like)

-Stuffed animals

-Candle (Find out his/her favorite scent and check if it is something that they can tolerate – chemo does strange things to our senses.)

-Anything homemade – A cross, giant card, poem

-Blanket (handmade or bought) – Super soft ones are nice to take to the hospital for chemo

Nicole sitting in a hospital bed smiling with sunflower ears on holding up her chemo blanket.
Sunflower mouse ears made by my friend with I’m All Ears Design Co. on Etsy as a fundraiser to anyone who purchased them and a “chemo” blanket made by a group of friends with special patches on it of things that I love.

-Gift cards for food, clothing, smoothies

-Coloring books and markers, crayons, colored pencils are nice to help pass the time

-Puzzles with something he/she would be interested in – I enjoyed 300 piece puzzles because my mind was running slower and I was fatigued

-Devotional – I cannot recommend this one enough as it got me through cancer – https://www.amazon.com/What-Your-Heart-Needs-Hard/dp/0800722884

-Organic spa/bath products – I took a bath every single day during treatment. Bath salts, bath bombs, soaps, scrubs, bubble bath, and lotions were so lovely. I received a lot from Buff City Soaps and loved them so much (especially the Good Morning Sunshine scent) https://www.buffcitysoap.com

-Prayer Box – It was small and I kept it by my nightstand to add prayers in it nightly – https://www.naturallife.com/prayer-boxes.html

-Care Package of favorite things – My boss made me a “unicorn” care package with slippers, pink wig, scented chapstick and many other fun items that were so thoughtful. A group of my friends also made a “Box of Sunshine” and took turns each month putting together a box of goodies that were bright, happy, and funny.

close up of Nicole in her pink wig with pink lipstick smiling.
Wearing the pink wig that my boss sent me as part of the “unicorn” care package she assembled.

-Water Bottles/Coffee Mugs. I took my water bottle everywhere with me. I was constantly taking pills and needed to stay hydrated so this is a great gift.

-Homemade signs

-Cookbook of healthy and cancer fighting recipes (Many can be found on Amazon)

-Nail polish (if it is okay for the cancer patient to use). I was instructed not to go and have my nails done during chemo so it was fun when friends sent me seasonal colors of nail polish for me to do myself.

-Clothes for the season – My mentor purchased a Christian shirt from a great local Colorado company called NHim that I love. https://nhimapparel.com

-Jewelry

-Favorite sports team gear (if he/she has one they like)

-Journal

-Books to read – Suggestion for a good cancer book I received: https://www.amazon.com/Fight-Back-Joy-Celebrate-Greatest/dp/1617950890

-Balloons (if allowed)

-Donate a trip– one of my best friends and her family treated me to a trip to Disneyland between chemo ending and going into surgery. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

Jenna and Nicole standing in front of the castle all lit up for in purple crystals with our mouse ears on smiling at Disneyland.
Jenna and her family treated me to a trip to Disneyland in the time between chemo and surgery.

-Decorations that he/she would like for their home

-Choose a bill for that month and help pay for it whether it’s water, electric, gas, or even rent/mortgage. My mother-in-law purchased our registration renewal for our vehicle at the end of the year and it made a huge difference.

 

Wes and I had the most tremendous and loving support. We couldn’t have even dreamt up the amazing things that friends, family, coworkers, and complete strangers did for us. It has forever impacted our lives and we want to thank you, thank you, thank you.

My hope is that this post will inspire others who want to help someone they love with great ideas on things you can do if you need some inspiration on how to help. And to those with cancer, here are some great responses of what you may need/want during treatment that could be helpful for you.

Nicole sitting on Wes' lap with a cup of tea while he kisses her on the cheek.
Wes and I enjoying a tea tasting at Celestial Seasonings a couple weeks ago.

God bless you!
THANK YOU!

Sparkle on,
Nicole Body

 

Know someone who is going through cancer? Is there something you said, did, or gave that made an impact that you’d like to share?

Or have you battled cancer? What is something you appreciated that someone else did for you? I would love to hear from you all to help support those in cancer treatment.

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