Yesterday, I covered 5 fast tips for helping a friend who is in the waiting or gathering stage. In that phase, your friend has either had a biopsy or a mammogram and is awaiting the results.
I actually have two friends this week awaiting results. I try my very best to practice what I preach when it comes to this stuff. Because sometimes, even if you’ve been in their shoes, it’s still hard to know exactly how to support them.
And what if the tests come back with a malignant diagnosis? What can you do for a friend?
- Be you.
- There is truly no right or wrong when it comes to this. Some friends are going to retreat. Some are going to come out of the woodwork. While you are not the person with the disease, sometimes, it might feel like your world is under attack when something serious happens to a friend. So just be the you they know you to be. If you are the joker, make jokes. If you are the one who rarely cries, that’s fine. Just be you. You have been a constant in their life. Continue to be that.
- Do what you know how to do.
- I say this A LOT. But. If your friend has been diagnosed, you don’t have to take them meals. I know. You’ve seen the movies and everyone brings food. But. You don’t cook. If you don’t cook then please please please don’t take them food. Just take over a bottle of wine to chat. A movie to watch. If you live afar, send cupcakes, a box of sunshine, flowers, or even just a text that says, “This sucks.” Do what YOU know how to do.
- Ask them how they are feeling that day.
- I said this in a previous post but the reality with a diagnosis is that some days, you feel like you have a handle on it. Other days, you feel like this is the end of your life. And that’s okay. But as a friend to someone, when you check in, just ask them, “How are you today?”
- Do not ask them what they need.
- Here is what they need if they are going to go through any sort of treatment: meals, childcare, cards, gas money, house cleaning, positive vibes, prayers, date nights, christmas shopping done, christmas gifts wrapped, skincare help, iTunes to listen to, movies to watch, a dog to cuddle up with, to feel normal… and on. and on. and on. What people need, well, is anything you can offer. I know. It sounds like a big idea. But really, one of my cousins gave us his Streaming Channel passwords. It wasn’t hard for him to do that and oh my gosh, it was so great. But I wouldn’t have known to ask for it. Asking for meals, childcare, housekeeping– those are all HARD to speak out loud because the patient does not want to ask for things like this — it’s a pride thing. So if one person can just head the charge, that’s amazing. Another of our friends would take our boys the Monday evening after chemo. It was a lifesaver. Do not ask what they need, just offer and then do.
- Always send a message.
- Are you wondering if you are close enough to this person to send a note or tell them you are thinking of them or that this is crappy or you haven’t talked forever sooo… Do not even worry about those things. If you feel compelled to do goodness, just do it. No one ever dislikes hearing from someone. And any time my friends would reach out, it made my day… or even just a moment.
And… because I get a lot of questions about these two topics:
What to give a friend who is going through treatment
- A chemo bag complete with items for chemo days: warm fuzzy slipper socks, travel mug, extra phone charger, iTunes gift card, snacks, pens, notebook, chapstick, hand lotion (non-scented), herbal teas, hand sanitizer, Jesus Calling, small bible, lemon drops or butterscotch disks, a blanket, and positive affirmations.
- Warm blanket, prayer shawl, soft pillow, robe. The post chemo crash is very real.
- Hats, stocking caps, scarves (think soft). Even if someone has a wig, they will probably not wear it 24/7. Hats are great to be able to throw on around the house.
- Lube, massage oil, toys. Yes. Some people still have sex while they have cancer;).
- Baking soda (for mouth rinses), Biotene mouthwash, Mary Kay Overnight emollient (unscented), heating pad, and epsom salts for baths — all of these are handy at home between chemo sessions.
- Boyfriend pillow, Pill sorter, Bed tv tray, magazines, Essential oils, Diffuser, open-front pajamas — great post-surgery.
- Amazon gift card, iTunes gift card, takeout gift card — anything that can make life easier for a bit.
- Friendship book — a bunch of my friends collected quotes and stories and thoughts from a whole score of people and put them in a photo album I could take to treatments and appointments. One of the most special things I received and I’m pretty sure it was pretty affordable.
- Funny shirts, inspirational jewlery, big earrings, leggings, and the like. The accessories seem to take your mind off of cancer. My Wonder Woman shirt and F(u)ck Cancer were the impetus for my costumes. Fun is good. Especially with cancer.
- Cards, warm hugs, happy thoughts, shoulder to cry on, and any other kind thing you can think of. Kindness always works.
- BONUS: paper plates and utensils!!!!
And that is the perfect segue into the other big question: MEALS
Okay. Here is what I highly suggest if you are doing meals. Find one point-person. There will be a person who is good at this stuff and knows how to do it. They can take alllllll the names of people who want to help and make a spreadsheet. Then, they should split it down the middle. At the beginning EVERYONE feels like they need to help. But cancer treatment can take months or years. Splitting the list in two or three waves and tapping into different groups at different times of treatment makes it so people aren’t burned out AND they feel useful.
You can use a meal website OR signup geniue OR a spreadsheet. If people sign up, have them sign up for specific days of the week so the person who is on the receiving ends knows the meals are coming. Ask the family/individual what types of preferences they have, what they like, and of course, any aversions or allergies to foods.
Taking a meal is awesome. Taking them in throwaway containers is also wonderful. And taking something that requires little prep, is also amazing, Some people brought us full meals, some brought groceries — fresh fruits and veggies that were easy to throw together, some brought desserts, some brought gift cards. ALLLLL were amazing.
People tend to do a lot of red sauce items but sometimes, with chemo, one can have mouth sores so red sauce can be an issue. Bland foods are good for someone who has mouth sores: Soups, mashed potatoes, plain noodles, and rice. Also, if you are signing up, know that it is totally great to just do it one time. That is so helpful. So so helpful.
Okay. So. That is kind of my “starter” guide to helping out post-diagnosis. We had friends give us EVERYTHING. Their personal assistant, cleaning our cars, homemade mixed CDs with all fight songs, mail after mail after mail… I cannot ever repay all the people who stepped up and did even one small thing. It all felt like the big stuff. So always know that even the smallest gesture can make the biggest difference.
And prayer, positive vibes, and old-fashioned goodness… those are worth their weight in gold.