What You Can Say or Do To Help Someone with Cancer

When you first heard your loved one had cancer, you may have completely tuned everything out after the word cancer. But to fully be there for your loved one, you’ll need to really tune into everything he or she is saying and follow the cues.

Let your loved one lead, and provide opportunities for connectedness, such as by making eye contact, holding her hand, or patting him on the back (provided this is something you’re both comfortable with and accustomed to). You don’t want to treat your loved one differently from before.

Cancer has a way of making people feel disconnected from the world, so you want to ensure as much normalcy and connectedness in your relationship as possible.

How to connect with a cancer patient at the hospital

Being a patient in a hospital is not a pleasant experience. To make this situation more tolerable, your loved one may benefit from a visit, provided she’s interested in and capable of having visitors.

Just keep in mind that the person you encounter in the hospital bed may not resemble or act like the person you know so well outside the hospital, particularly if he just underwent major surgery to remove a tumor.

So, before visiting or entering the room, ask the floor nurse how your loved one is doing so that you’re better prepared for what you’ll encounter. Also, ask in advance whether you may bring anything along for your loved one, like a favorite snack, flowers, or a book or magazines to pass the time.

During your visit, let your loved one dictate the length of your stay. If he appears interested to simply listen, is actively engaged in the discussion, or otherwise appears to be enjoying your presence, you may want to continue your visit even if it appears you’re doing all the talking.

Your presence in the hospital can be very therapeutic, even if you’re discussing items of no particular relevance to the moment, such as a planned future trip or the results of a recent ballgame.

In addition to nourishing his soul, you may consider how and if you can help nourish his body. Because hospital food is notorious for being unappetizing, ask the staff if you can bring your loved one any food from the outside, such as a favorite snack. If she has a longer stay ahead of her, this may be an especially welcomed treat.

And if you notice your loved one is experiencing side effects that are impacting his nutrition, you may want to talk to your loved one about it and make sure the staff is aware of it.

If you’re unable to visit your loved one in the hospital, there are things you can do to show you care, including calling, sending a thoughtful card, arranging for a gift delivery from the hospital gift shop, or even sending her regular text messages or photos, provided she has access to a cellphone (access is restricted in some hospital settings).

How to connect at home with someone with cancer

A major advantage of being home, rather than in the hospital, is being in a familiar environment and around normal activities. But a disadvantage is the lack of access to multiple staff that’ll tend to your loved one’s every need.

If your loved one is recovering from a hospitalization or is incapacitated from a treatment-related side effect, it may take some time before he feels well enough to resume all the normal activities of daily living, including shopping for groceries, planning for and preparing regular meals, or taking care of other household chores.

If your loved one lives alone or with someone who is overwhelmed by caregiver burden or has limited ability to offer assistance, this may lead to an exceedingly stressful situation. This is the perfect opportunity for you to step in and show your support by making visits and offering to help with chores, preparing wholesome meals, or simply lending an ear.

Even if your loved one is able to take care of herself or has this assistance covered, knowing you care can make all the difference in the world. Calling, visiting, or even sending a thoughtful card can bring a bit of cheer into the day.

You don’t have to talk about or focus on the cancer either. If you visit your loved one, do an activity together, like a craft project or making a meal or snack together. Even if your loved one’s cancer is advanced and unlikely to be cured, focusing on noncancer issues can be therapeutic.

While your loved one recovers or undergoes treatment, you may also consider taking over more of the mealtime chores, unless this is something your loved one enjoys doing. In that case, perhaps you can still lend a helping hand to make the activity more fun and rewarding.

How to deal with a cancer sufferer's bad days

When cancer is in the equation, difficult days are to be expected. Your loved one may be fatigued, may be experiencing adverse effects from the cancer or its treatments, may have received unexpected bad news, or may simply be in an emotional rut contemplating the cancer’s impact on his future. The best thing you can do during such times is to be supportive.

You can provide support in many ways, but often simply listening to concerns and being empathetic is the best therapy. Be sure to truly listen to your loved one and to acknowledge her feelings and concerns. And above all, remember that expressed concerns, even if not factually correct, are still valid, because they’re affecting your loved one’s inner world and sense of well-being.

You can also help remedy bad days by providing or offering assistance if your loved one is struggling to physically get through the day because of the cancer or a treatment-related side effect. If you live together or close by, try to alleviate the burden of the daily grind.

Offer to make the meals and take care of the essential chores. And if you can, engage your loved one in a fun activity, even if it’s just watching a movie together on the couch.

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