People are generally good. Most of them are actually pretty amazing. Recently, it seems, I’ve had to remind myself of this more than usual. Covid, inflation, school shootings … basically the local and world news every single night. Personally, I recently trusted a contractor with a project, paid him a big chunk of money and watched him never show up again. Even worse, the work he did do was crap and could have seriously injured my family. I was overly trusting and he was a huge, giant scammer. I’m choosing to believe that he is in a tough spot in life and normally wouldn’t choose to be an awful person, but I’m not overly confident. Sometimes, choosing to see the good in people is TOUGH.
The crazy thing about cancer (and other serious illness) is communities come together and goodness oozes out. Friends, family, and complete strangers offer generosity beyond your highest expectations. Sure, you run into a cranky doctor, or the lady at Target that has absolutely no boundaries when she comments about your bald head. Or, usually the hardest, the friend who doesn’t reach out with a text or email, but months later you find out that it was because they were so overwhelmed by your diagnosis, or that it struck to close to home, that they didn’t know what to do.
July 2022 marked year 8 for me. A celebration of another year alive, but nothing momentous because it is only 2 ½ years tumor free. Noteworthy though is that I have had eight years of wonderfulness in my life. 8 years of an amazingly, supportive community (except you Ted the contractor – I also see you!). In general, I have a lot of amazingly generous acts of service to share. Sometimes, being a friend of the cancer patient or the extended family member, or even an acquaintance is difficult. You know that you want to participate in making this life challenge easier for the individual, but you have no idea WHAT to do. Becky to the rescue. Like I said, I’ve had a lot of wonderfulness and I’m here to share it with you.
We had so many people perform such acts of unbelievable, overwhelming acts of generosity that came at just the right time and will forever mean so much to us. I’m not going to focus on those today. I’m going to focus on the doable, repeatable things that don’t cost a fortune. The ones that let someone know how much you are rooting for them without getting too much into their personal bubble or just staring at their house through your window having no clue what to do. Luckily, there is a middle ground!
- Do something. If you know someone has been diagnosed reach out in an unobtrusive way. It may mean that they don’t contact you until they are mentally ready, but they will know that they are being thought of. Doing nothing can increase the patient’s fear of isolation and is super awkward if you run into them into the grocery store 6 months later.
- If you feel moved to offer help, offer something specific with a date and timeframe. For example: Hope you are hanging in there! I am going to drop off a pint of ice cream on your front door on Monday at 3:30. If you feel up to it, I’ll say hi for 10 minutes, but if not no worries! Just wanted to let you know I was thinking of you. (A specific date, time, and no expectations for the patient to follow through with anything if they aren’t feeling up to it)
- If it’s a family set up a meal train. Sign up meal apps work great if someone can take the lead organizing. Sending out to the individual’s church group, friend group, or softball team works amazing because everyone can work together.
Friends had the most amazing ideas for meal trains, some of these were our favorites:
- Don’t feel pressured if you aren’t a cook. If the family has kids or active individuals scheduling and having a pizza delivered was just the ticket to survive a school night dinner.
- Friends that used throw away tin foil were the best. There was no pressure to set up a time to wash and return the tupperware. Super duper bonus points if you attached a sticky that says: no thank you note required!
- People thought to throw in a fruit or veggie. It helped so much to feel like we weren’t feeding our kids pizza or pasta every night.
- Individuals sent muffins or breakfast burritos – items we could throw in the freezer and the kids could get themselves if I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning.
- If you do enjoy cooking, some people really thought out of the box and it was such a nice change (especially for Eric)
Everything was appreciated, but these were some ideas that we thought were a really nice change; brisket (we could use the next day for sandwiches), enchiladas ( not spicy for the kids), fixings for tacos so we could eat for several days, breakfast casseroles and cinnamon rolls for dinner, and soups were amazing because they could be frozen and re-heated.
- Having the organizer act as the contact point for people with questions and leaving a cooler on the front porch with a drop off time was also great. Again, no pressure to answer the door if you were currently trying to not puke.
- I had an amazing cancer friend (Anne, you know who you are) write a short card for everyday (25) I had a radiation treatment. They were not to be opened early and each had a inspirational quote to get you through one more day. I’ve returned this act to a few friends and I hope they loved it as much as I did.
- Send funny texts. Write: laughed out loud when I saw this and thought it might give you a giggle too. Just thinking of you, no need to text back if you aren’t feeling up to it. Hang in there friend!
- Send texts updating the patient about you. Cancer can be isolating. We are stuck at home or in the hospital A LOT. We want to still feel included in your circle, so don’t be afraid to update us with the wonderful things in your life.
- If you stop at the hospital to visit your friend/acquaintance/loved one pick up a smoothie for the patient (they probably can’t tolerate much else) and a bag of candy for the nurses. Candy brings the nurses into your room, which gives the patient more opportunities to engage, ask for meds or use the bathroom with assistance.
- I so appreciated the friends who brought meals to my family members on surgery days. They sat in the waiting room for hours on end, too afraid to leave, but also very hungry!
- With the patient’s permission start a Caring Bridge site or a group text to update friends/family with progress, surgery and chemo dates. We are sometimes too tired to keep everyone in the loop, but we also want everyone to feel that their love is so appreciated.
- Finally, also one of my favorites; walk through the clearance aisle of Target or The Dollar store. Pick up funny items that are all the same color and individually wrap in tissue paper. Something they can open slowly overtime when they need a pick me up. For example; Orange …. To remind the patient of sunshine in the days ahead … Cheese It’s, Clementines, orange stickers, chapstick, lotion, an orange card, and orange socks (extra points if they have something ridiculous on them.) Thoughtful and entertaining!
Hope these ideas helped just a bit when you have a friend who is struggling with any big life event and you so badly want to help, but have no idea where to start.
Us patients appreciate you!
Until next time