How to Help a Cancer Patient, Part 1

help a cancer patient

Have you been here before? The phone rings. You just found out someone you know has cancer.

The news hits you like a ton of bricks. Your thoughts are swirling. You wonder, “Why?”

In fact, that night you can hardly sleep. Every time you wake up, you think of this person dealing with that “C” word that no one likes to even say to the face of the newly diagnosed patient.

You’re not sure what to do. You want to help, but you’re just not sure what you could possibly do to help ease the blow on this person or their family.

I understand. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I had a friend and former student of mine who was suddenly diagnosed with a serious form of cancer. I was devastated. I stayed awake thinking about and praying for her. I wondered what I could do to help.

Then I received that personally life-changing phone call. Now I was the cancer patient. My perspective drastically changed.

In this series of posts, I’m going to walk you through some suggestions of what you can do for a cancer patient. In fact, these ideas could apply not only to cancer patients but also to individuals and families dealing with a traumatic situation or serious health condition that throws their schedule haywire.

Today we’ll look at three simple things you can do to make a world of difference in someone’s life.

Send a Card

This may seem small, but, believe me, it’s huge. I never quite understood the importance of a card until I started getting them in my mailbox day after day.

This personal, hand-written form of communication may seem to be a lost art today, but I found out it was alive and well.

Each card struck a think that someone would think of me and take the time to send a beautiful card in the mail to show they cared! I still have a drawer full of them that I can’t bear to throw away.

If you don’t know what to say in the card, it’s okay. You could simply sign your name. You don’t have to write a book. But if you want to include something, copy a verse of Scripture that is one of your favorites. Share a poem. Include the words of a hymn.

Pray for Them and Tell Them You are Praying

The prayers of God’s people are powerful. “The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much,” the Scripture says. Pray specifically for their needs as I wrote about here. Post their picture in a prominent place so you to remember to pray throughout the day.

I remember Rebecca, a lady at church, telling me she was praying for me. In fact, she said whenever she saw a red car, she would pray for me. I can’t remember the story behind the red car, but it was encouraging to me that she was praying for me throughout her daily routines.

It would be impossible to count the number of people who told me (or relatives of mine) that they were praying for me. Not only was this encouraging, but I know God continues to answer these prayers!

Take a Meal

It’s hard to accurately express how dramatically a life changes with a cancer diagnosis. For me, my routine turned upside down as I had to schedule medical tests, doctor visits, surgeries, follow-ups, etc.

All that with two small children (then, an almost-2-year old and a 3-year-old). So that meant scheduling someone to watch them as well. Thankfully my in-laws live close by, and my mom and sister helped out a ton too.

But the scheduling dilemmas, although significant, were not the most difficult adjustment. There was emotional and mental stress dealing with the “C” word and its possible implications.

I usually enjoy working in the kitchen, but at this point, it was the last thing I wanted to do. Thankfully, my church family and other friends were a tremendous help. Two of my friends brought me a meal each week those first couple months. Some people brought as they felt compelled.

Whatever food was sent, we consumed and enjoyed. Everyone has to eat, and most of us eat at least three times a day. A meal will most certainly be appreciated.

My suggestion is this: don’t say, “I’d like to bring a meal sometime. Let me know when it would work out.” Instead, tell them, “I’d like to bring you a meal this week. Is Tuesday all right?” And keep working on it until you get a date nailed down.

Great thing is, you don't have to be a tremendous cook to take someone a meal these days. Costco and Sam's have great options. (Should I name a few? In the refrigerator section: pulled pork, chicken pot pie, chicken salad, delicious soups, pot roasts, ravioli, and more!)

In the coming weeks, I'll share some more ideas from my ever-growing list. When I talk to cancer patients or those with life-changing conditions, I ask for their input. It's always eye-opening, and I can't wait to tell you more.