Ringing the doorbell, I nervously clutched my casserole dish closer. The door opened, and a woman with dark hair smiled at me.
“Come in, sweetie”, she said.
Following her through the family room, I noticed a hospital bed set up in the corner. There was other medical equipment near the bed. I quickly looked away.
“Just set it down right here on the counter”, the woman said. I began unpacking the meal I had brought.
“I made a chicken pot pie, I hope you haven’t had it this week.”
“Oh, that sounds wonderful! Thank you so much, I just haven’t had time to cook.”
“Are you doing OK?”
Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. She slightly lifted her chin, and I could see determination pushing away her emotion.
“I’m doing fine. It’s been hard, but God is good.”
“We are praying for your husband, and for you”, I replied. “Let us know if we can do anything at all. We live pretty close to you.”
How I wish I could go back to that moment in time, and taken the opportunity to show just a little more compassion. Maybe I could have given that dear lady a genuine hug, or said a prayer with her. But the truth was, I didn’t know how to act, or what to say. I felt awkward and incapable. I was terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing.
In the last year, I have learned that no one can really know what to say to someone who is suffering from cancer. This knowledge can only be obtained by experience. By sharing what I have personally learned in the last year, I hope to help others who may be feeling intimidated at the idea of helping someone with cancer.
HOW TO HELP SOMEONE WITH CANCER
Let them know you care. In this day and age, it is extremely easy to express your care and concern to someone who has cancer. Texting, instant messaging, and sending cards in the mail are just a few ideas of easy communication. If the person you are reaching out to is a good friend, consider a phone call, or even a short visit. It doesn’t take any profound words of wisdom to tell someone you care. Keep your text message short, but sweet. A simple “we are praying for you” can go a long way.
Give them time to process their diagnosis. If someone has just found out they have cancer, more than likely, they don’t know very many details. There will need to be more tests, and possibly even surgery, before they find out what stage their cancer is, and what treatment will be required. They may be trying to process the fact that they even have cancer, while also struggling with all the unknown possibilities. So while you are expressing your care and concern, be careful to not bombard the cancer patient with too many questions. But don’t leave them alone! They need to be surround by their family, friends, and church during this scary time. However, do be sensitive to what you say and ask the first few weeks after diagnosis. Now is not the time to share stories of “great-aunt Martha, who died a terrible death from colon cancer”!
Be informed. Once the cancer patient has a treatment plan, things start moving pretty quickly. One way to show you care is to stay informed of what kind of treatment is needed, how often, and how aggressive it will be. Learn when surgeries will be, and make sure someone will be there to sit with the spouse. Send flowers, cards, or bring up a gift basket after surgery is over. Ask if they have any needs, so if others happen to ask what they can do to help, you will have an idea of what to suggest.
Help them with the small stuff. I can’t tell you what a blessing it was for my husband and I to hear the many offers to help watch our kids. We had friends and family help pick up kids from school during treatments and appointments. Friends kept our kids overnight during surgeries. A friend brought over a hot meal during the first few weeks my husband was diagnosed. We were still walking around in a daze, and I wasn’t really making dinner, and her thoughtfulness went a long way into comforting our hearts. The small stuff can become very overwhelming when you are going through cancer. My husband became so weak and ill during his treatments, that he could no longer accomplish small tasks around the house. Thankfully, my son was old enough to start mowing the lawn, and our friendly neighbor offered to help with a few projects around the house that couldn’t wait. If you want to help someone who is going through cancer, these are all wonderful ideas that you could do to be a blessing.
Giving gifts is always a great idea. Depending on the type and stage of cancer, it may become impossible for a patient to work full time, if at all. Thankfully, my husband was able to get part-time disability, however, it was only a certain percentage of his salary. Gradually, it became a little hard for us financially. While we never truly struggled to the point we couldn’t buy groceries, there were a few times we saw God provide specific needs when people would slip us a rolled up $100 bill, or we received a card with cash in it through the mail. God always provided our needs while my husband had cancer! We received restaurant gift cards that helped us out on the truly difficult days during my husbands treatments. We never would have been able to get carry-out as often as we did without the generosity of our brothers and sisters in Christ! If the Lord puts it on your heart to give, even if it feels impulsive, obey the leading of the Holy Spirit. Maybe God is trying to use you to help fullfill a need in the life of someone else!
Don’t forget about them. Once the initial shock of a cancer diagnosis wears away, it is easy to forget about the difficulties your friend with cancer is still facing. Life goes on, and the crazy, busy, hustle-and-bustle of every-day life can distract us from remembering to reach out to those still in need. There was a day when my husband had to go in for his chemotherapy, and I wasn’t able to be there for with him because of an event I was hosting. My brother-in-law drove over two hours to come and sit with my husband for those 4 hours! It was such a blessing to know that while life was going on for everyone around him, someone was still thinking of my husband. During his cancer treatments, my husband received many cards expressing love and prayers. Often the card would arrive on a day where an encouraging word was desperately needed. God has a way of sending you what you need, exactly when you need it! Knowing that others are thinking and praying for you is just as needful at the end of a cancer journey than it is at the beginning.
Pray for them as they get back to normal life. When you have cancer, hearing the word “remission”, is definitely something to celebrate! Yet, depending on the aggressiveness and length of treatment, it may take a while for a cancer patient to gain their strength again. There may also be some struggle in becoming independent, after needing the help of others for a long period of time. And lastly, a person who has gone through cancer tends to change how they view life. Their dreams and goals for their future have changed, and this may cause a little uncertainty when getting back to “normal life” again. Don’t stop praying for someone who has had cancer.
If you are still uncertain of what to say or do around someone with cancer, you can always pray. My husband and I KNOW we could never have gone through the last year without the prayers of others. What an encouragement it was to hear that so many people were praying for my husband! Not only was it encouraging, but is was comforting. The next time you hear a family member, friend, or church member was diagnosed with cancer, don’t let the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing stop you from helping those in need. God is not going to overlook any effort you put forth in love in ministering to His saints!
Hebrews 6:10 – “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed towards his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.”