Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center
9 Ways You Can Help Cancer Patients
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How You Can Help Those with Cancer
From helping around the house to supporting future research, here’s how to lend a hand to a neighbor, friend, or loved one going through treatment.
A cancer diagnosis in an overwhelming event – one that affects patients physiologically, psychologically, and spiritually. Maybe you’ve been there yourself. Maybe a loved one has. And maybe, given that there were an estimated 1.7 million new cancer cases in 2018, you know someone currently coping with the disease.
If that’s the case, you’ve likely wondered what you can do.
“The biggest thing is to be proactive in letting the individual with cancer know you want to help,” says Alexandra Huffman, Manager of Support Services at Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center. “But don’t just say, ‘Let me know if you need anything.’ Suggest tangible ways to help, like, ‘I’m going to run by the grocery store today – can you send a list?’”
Huffman also says to reach out often with these specific offers of help. “It takes some of the onus off the patient to ask for help when it’s coming on an ongoing basis,” she says.
Truth is, there are many ways to give of your time, talent, and financial resources – ways to make a difference in the here and now, and ways to make a difference moving forward. Consider the following ideas to offer support.
Sit and listen.
For many cancer patients, treatment is isolating. Having someone to talk to is helpful. So, even though it might not feel like much, offering your ear (and shoulder) can make a person’s day.
Cook, clean, and help around the house.
One side effect of treatment is reduced energy. Combined with depression and stress related to the diagnosis, it can be challenging for people to keep their homes running. You can help by picking up groceries, cooking meals (or organizing friends to take turns cooking), repairing items around the house, and more. Cleaning the house or hiring a cleaning service before someone is discharged from the hospital might be especially welcome. It allows them to come home to a healthy, healing environment, Huffman says.
Check in before bringing food.
Huffman says we all like to provide food, but people in treatment may have specific dietary needs or difficulty eating certain foods. If that’s the case, grocery store gift cards might be a better choice.
Help with the kids.
Parents undergoing treatment still need to get children to school and sports and other activities. And those who have very young children at home during the day might feel an extra load. Offering to watch the kids – whether at their own house or by taking them to the zoo – can be a tremendous help.
Drive to appointments.
Sometimes, driving is just too much for a person going through treatment. You can help by taking a patient to the doctor. For long treatments, stay with your friend or family member and sit and talk. Consider taking notes to ensure they don’t forget any of the information they’re being given. “Many patients come to chemotherapy or radiation in predictable cycles,” Huffman says. “Having multiple people going with them creates a good distraction and grows their support network.” If you can’t drive, gas station gift cards are a nice choice; they help cover the added expense of transportation for treatment.
Support the caregiver.
Ask if you can help with yardwork, errands, pet care, or anything else that keeps the household running.
Knit or crochet a scarf, hat, or blanket.
A homemade item offers both physical warmth and shows that you care. Simple comfort means a lot during treatment.
Pray or offer spiritual guidance.
A cancer diagnosis can test a person’s faith. Having someone to help guide you through the tough times and to pray on your behalf can be comforting.
Set up a shared calendar.
Online tools can give friends and family an easy way to see what help is needed and when.
For some cancer patients, blood transfusions are necessary as a result of blood loss during surgery or because of side effects of treatment. If you’re interested in donating blood, contact the American Red Cross for donation centers near you. You can also register to donate bone marrow.
Invest in the future.
A financial gift to UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center can spark new cancer breakthroughs. “Philanthropic giving at any level can be meaningful to patients and their loved ones,” Huffman says. “We have a lot of patients who access support resources through UTSW and other community organizations while in treatment.”
Make a tribute gift.
Show your support by making a named gift in honor of a loved one, or in honor of a physician or clinic that’s made a big difference in your cancer journey.
In addition to philanthropic giving, some of the most important contributions you can make involve your time and talents as you improve someone’s life, help their family, and encourage healing.