How to Love on Someone Through Treatment

Since my cancer diagnosis and treatment, I’ve had a bunch of people message me that someone they love is about to go through or is currently going through a cancer diagnosis and needs treatment. They all want to know what was the most helpful thing that was done for me and/or my family while we were deep in the trenches. In fact, I have been asked so many times, I decided to write it all down in my notebook and turn it in to a blog post.

The day of my lumpectomy: May 10, 2018

Meals: This is the one we think of first, right? Especially if we live close or are in a community with the person (church, work, neighborhood, etc). Meals can be GREAT and we loved the ones we got, but ask first. And then don’t be discouraged if the person says they don’t need one. Cooking or baking might be your love language, but in our case, we have picky eaters and honestly, visitors stressed me out. We had a schedule people could sign up on if they wanted to provide a meal, and we weren’t afraid to be specific about what our family would actually eat.

Snacks: Even though meals were sort of overwhelming, snacks were not! We got some awesome deliveries of snacks for the kids (both healthy and fun), an edible arrangement (I ate most of that because FRUIT!), and other treats in care packages. These are great because they can be dropped on a porch or sent in the mail and no one feels like they have to entertain you (or put on pants to answer the door), AND they can be consumed gradually.

Also beer and wine on my doorstep were never a sad thing. Because yes, you can still drink when you’re going through chemotherapy (or at least I could. Just not on the day of treatment–not that I wanted to. Ugg.)

The Mother’s Day Basket my school sent after my surgery.

Cards and notes: If you live far away or you aren’t super close with someone, cards and notes are the way to go. I think sometimes people think, “who cares about a card?” But I am here to tell you that every card or note sent to me (snail mail is really the best) or even every email or private message I received, I kept. They are all tucked in a bag under my bed. When things got really shitty, I would re-read them. Or just hold the weight of them because it reminded me that I went through all those minds and hearts enough for them to specifically take time to send it.

This was all of them as of my last chemo treatment. I have added more to this pile!

Gift Cards: If you want to go beyond the card, but meals are not your thing or an option, gift cards are the way to go. People want to feed you and your family when you are out of commission, and that is a GREAT thing! We got TONS of gift cards to local restaurants that have take out or eat in, that way we could choose when and how we wanted our meals. Another reason this was great was because some days that we thought would be fine, were very not fine and the gift cards were there for those unplanned inability to prepare food. Plus everyone could get what they like. And the ones to ice cream or dessert places? Well those were just fun treats!

We were also sent gift cards for non-food stuff–especially for our kids (Target, the local toy store, activities, etc.) These were true gifts for our kids in the middle of a pretty scary, uncertain summer. All three dealt with my chemotherapy differently, and the kindness of both friends and strangers sustained them and gave them things to look forward to outside of seeing mom comatose.

Shipt or some other service: I swear I am not getting compensated for this, and actually we turned down the offer twice before one friend finally said, “too bad, this is what we want to gift you.” Shipt was so helpful for grocery shopping/delivery, that we renewed it for a full year after our gifted subscription ran out.

Cozy, fun things: I would be remiss not to mention the thoughtful gifts people sent. Earbuds for chemo (there are quite a few loud-talking elderly people there), blankets (chemo patients get COLD fast), hats, fuzzy socks, notebooks and pens, books (even though I couldn’t read during chemo, books are always a comfort to me), music to listen to at chemo, Bible verses, coffee mugs, tea, the list goes on! None of them were needs…or even wants I knew I had! But when they showed up, they comforted me.

Stuff that made me feel pretty: When you go through cancer treatment, you do not feel glamorous, let alone pretty. You feel like you are crawling through life. So when cute hats (that had SPF or were warm), lotions, make-up stuff, nail polish (no manicures or pedicures when you are doing chemo, so you have to do them yourself…or have a husband who will do it), even flavored lip balm or lip glosses showed up, it may have seemed frivolous, but to me it gave me back a little of my femininity. It made me feel pretty again.

Take The Kids: This is a tricky one. One of the best things people did for us was arrange fun childcare for our kids while I was at my worst. The tricky part is we had many offers, but only took up a handful of people on this because we wanted our kids to feel comfortable and natural and not like they were being sent away to someone they don’t know. Our kids were not just well-cared for, they had FUN while I felt like garbage. Some of their best memories of the summer were from the times they spent with friends and family while I was at my lowest. This helped me get the rest I needed because I knew my kids were having a ball.

Flowers: Who doesn’t love flowers? Again, this one seems like something everyone would do, but it’s not. I received some beautiful arrangements sent from professional places, but people also brought vases filled from their gardens or the farmer’s market. Since I couldn’t go outside much, it felt good to smell the fresh flowers in the house.

Ask them out: Ask them to do things when they are feeling good. Get fun stuff on their calendar. This was HUGE for me. I needed things to look forward to so I could remember that it wouldn’t always suck. We went to a minor league baseball game with friends (that I thought was going to back out of, but didn’t and I am glad about it), a Pearl Jam concert, and I got my make-up done with a friend. We also went to a cottage with my parents for a long weekend. Doing stuff when I wasn’t “sick” was necessary to my recovery. I took it slow and I made sure to rest, but I did things. This was crucial for my mental health too!

And lastly, just be there. Make sure they know they can tell you that they feel like shit and that you won’t try to talk them out of that (because you can’t. They just have to go through it). Be there when they are feeling good and help them celebrate that too.

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About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.

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