Before my leukemia diagnosis my life had not been intimately touched by cancer. I hadn’t watched a friend lose their hair because of chemo, or felt compelled to register myself with a bone marrow registry. I really had no idea how I would help a friend in need — I just knew I would figure it out if and when I needed to.
I’ve learned so much since I began this fight, not the least of which is how difficult it is for people to wrap their heads around this incredibly challenging time in my life. I’ve been blown away by beautiful acts of kindness and support from the most surprising people and places, but also deeply hurt that some of my good friends and extended family members have avoided me like the plague. (like cancer!) It occurred to me that perhaps people just don’t know what to do in the face of cancer.
So I surveyed several of my fellow cancer patients and survivors to create this list of
10 Things to DO and NOT DO for Cancer Patients.
The worst thing you can do to a cancer patient is avoid them. I know our circumstances can be scary, and if you’ve never been touched by cancer, you may not know what to say. But simple text can mean the world to us. So here are a few suggestions:
- “I’m thinking of you… but I just don’t know what to say.”
- “I don’t want to bother you, just wanted you to know you’re in my thoughts.”
- “No need to reply. I hurt for you. I’m praying for you.”
Depending on the circumstances, we may respond right back. At the very least we’ll be uplifted by your thoughtfulness.
Cancer patients still care about others. In fact, we feel so isolated from the world and so wrapped up in cancer, it is particularly nice to hear how our family and friends are doing in the real world. It is ok to tell us about your latest job promotion, family challenge etc. It helps us feel like we are staying connected. You might not want to brag about your latest vacation and say how desperately you needed it (haha) or how you’re stressed about fitting into your new jeans. Just talk to us. We know friendship goes both ways. We want to feel needed in your life too.
We know you are trying to relate and find common ground to show that you understand what we’re going through, but please talk about ANYTHING BUT another persons death from cancer. Every survivor I asked put this “DO” at the top of their list. So, instead of sharing a sad story, maybe tell us you know all about the cancer fight but leave out the details like “Oh, he didn’t make it to transplant.” Or “He died during transplant.” While you might feel comforted sharing your family’s struggle, those comments only ignite nightmares for us. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up crying to Cesar saying “OMG… so and so just told me her father died from AML.. what if i ‘m next? Holy crap!”
Chances are if you ask us how you can help we won’t tell you straight out. We’ve already burdened so many with our fight, and it’s hard to ask anyone for anything more. This battle also robs some of our independence, suddenly we can’t do the things we used to, and admitting it can be hard. So when you ask “What can I do for you?” it’s likely we will say “Don’t worry, I’m fine.” But the truth is, if we weren’t so embarrassed we’d say:
- “Would you mind helping me with laundry so I have more time with my son?”
- “Can you prepare a meal for us because I’m too tired to cook and I can’t eat out because of risk of germs and bacteria?”
- “My skin is so dry from the chemo. Can you get me some lotion?”
No way we will say this but BELIEVE ME, any of these acts of support mean so much. Maybe you can gently dig around and find out what is truly needed at the moment.
I have been blessed with so many angels who have prayed for me, made a donation, cooked a meal, helped unpack our home because they knew I didn’t have the strength and couldn’t be around dust, cleaned the kitchen so I could have more time with Gabriel. I am so blessed! These people helped me find the courage to be honest about my needs and accept their help. I look forward to paying it forward.
Chemo knocks out our immune systems down to nothing. Bacteria or a germ that doesn’t impact you could be a big deal for us. In some cases it cold be deadly. We wear masks to protect ourselves from your germs. We also shouldn’t be around dust, second hand smoke, trash, laundry — anything with potential germs. Of course it’s ok if your child stares and points at us wearing a mask. It’s curiosity. Gabriel would do the same thing. Don’t be embarrassed by it and instead explain to your child that we can’t fight germs and need our masks to protect us.
Laughter is good medicine. Positive stores are too! That’s why I was inspired to create the ArmorUp for LIFE Campaign — I want to hear everyone’s success stories.
Just focus on us winning! We don’t want to think about not surviving. When you ask us, the wheels spin in our head and it just starts a wave of anxiety.
It will make us scared too. There is already so much to be scared about on this journey.
We may be busy fighting for our lives, but just because we have cancer doesn’t mean we don’t care about your life anymore. We want to know what’s going on and stay in the loop. Cancer can be so isolating… we need to stay connected.
Let our story inspire you to be prepared for life. The more fit you, the better prepared you will be for whatever life throws your way.
I promise you, you don’t want to “half fight” for your life, so #ArmorUp for LIFE; clean up your diet, get exercise, lower the stress levels in your life, surround yourself with positive energy.