By Elana Miller, MD
Reprinted from: Huffington Post
On December 17, 2013 I went to the ER for what I presumed was walking pneumonia (as a physician, I’m good at misdiagnosing myself) only to find out I had a giant tumor in my chest that could have killed me within weeks. Immediately I was admitted to the hospital and started on chemotherapy for Stage IV Acute Lymphoblastic T-Cell Lymphoma.
Over the following months I experienced a whirlwind of physical and emotional changes. The treatment became increasingly arduous, and I lost the ability to perform even simple functions, including working, driving, preparing food, and running errands. At 31 years old, I thought anyone taking away my independence would be prying it from my cold, dead hands. Unfortunately, that was almost the case.
Thankfully, I had a community of supporters — family, coworkers, friends — who stepped up and took care of me when I needed it most.
When a person first gets a cancer diagnosis, they’re often so overwhelmed they have no idea how to ask for help or what to ask for — but they sure need it. If you have a friend or family member with cancer you want to help, don’t make the mistake of making a vague, questionably-sincere offer “Well, call me when you need me!” (they won’t).
Instead, make your friend’s life easier by anticipating his or her needs and giving tangible, much-needed support. Here is a list of the top favors people did for me that made my day (and made my life much easier!) after my cancer diagnosis.
- Deliver a meal. Make sure to ask in advance if they have any dietary restrictions or are following any guidelines. Stay for a visit, or just drop off the food if they’re not up for it (a cooler left outside the front door is perfect for this).
- Deliver a Tupperware of several pre-made meals your friend can heat up as needed. Use Tupperware you don’t need returned.
- Send a quick email, text, or message saying you’re thinking of them.
- Add “No need to respond” to the end of your message — they’ll appreciate hearing from you without feeling the need to do anything in return.
- Add “Feel free to take me up on this offer whenever” when you offer help — they’ll know the offer will still be sincere whenever they need it (in a week, a month, a year).
- Set a calendar alert reminding you to check in with a quick hello or offer of help on a regular basis.
- Send a text the next time you’re at the grocery store and ask if they’d like you to pick anything up.
- Send a text the next time you’re at the drugstore to see if they need any toiletries.
- Send a housekeeper to clean up their place. Take care of the details so they just need to be there to open the door.
- Send a text the next time you’re at the pharmacy to see if they need any prescriptions picked up.
- Send a mobile masseuse for a gift massage.
- Offer to take them out for a coffee or lunch date.
- Offer to visit. Check that they’re feeling up for it.
- Offer to take them out to a movie. If they’re too tired, come by with a rental.
- Offer a ride to chemo and keep them company during the treatment. Even better, commit to giving a ride on a regular basis throughout their treatments.
- Let them know you’re “on call” for emergencies. Mean it.
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