This post is adapted from a post by Megan Rutherford on SHARE‘s website.
Family and friends can make a huge difference in helping a patient face diagnosis and treatment for breast or ovarian cancer. Here, several volunteers from SHARE’s Helpline (all cancer survivors) talk about the most supportive things their caregivers did to help them along their cancer journeys.
The importance of just showing up
For many, being present, especially during appointments and treatments, was the best gift of all. Bernadette, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 68, greatly appreciated the friends and family who accompanied her to treatment sessions. “I had a wonderful support system,” she said.
Similarly, Barbara D., an ovarian cancer survivor, had the constant company of her husband. “I had four surgeries, and he either stayed on a cot next to me in the hospital during my recovery or in a medical-student residence across the street,” she said. He also accompanied her to every appointment, test, and treatment session.
Finding your angel drivers
For Moira, help with transportation from her home in New Jersey to her chemo in New York every week for four months turned “Tuesday from a fearsome day into my favorite day of the week.” She refers to the people who provided transportation as her “angel drivers.”
Back to basics
For Barbara D., offers of grocery shopping (when she was home) and cat sitting (when she was in the hospital) were extremely helpful. Kathy, who has survived breast and uterine cancer, greatly appreciated the meals her neighbor prepared for her family of four, and Barbara B. felt very much loved when her husband arranged for one of her favorite restaurants to deliver dinner to her hospital room.
Take advantage of your special skills
Sometimes, a caregiver can use his or her special skills to make a difference for a patient. Koryn, a breast cancer survivor, had an amazing experience when a friend who happened to be a photographer offered her a professional makeup session and photo shoot to help her feel beautiful again. And the company of friends to celebrate the good news she heard at her last checkup mattered a lot to Meryl, who’s had breast cancer twice, as well as endometrial cancer.
If you want to offer help to a friend or family member with cancer, being precise about what you can do is the most useful way, as Barbara D. explained. “The most helpful caregivers are the ones who tell you exactly how they are willing to help. The least helpful are those who say, ‘Call me if you need me.’ ”
Be all ears
And sometimes the best way to help is simply to be there, ready to listen. “When people call the SHARE helpline and ask what they can do to help a friend with breast cancer, I always suggest that they provide a listening ear,” says Kathy.