Having cancer sucks. Hard. Aside from the obvious physical pain, there’s also the verbal diarrhea and spontaneous meltdowns to deal with. Like the time I saw my neighbor at Rite Aid and he asked, in an obligatory neighborly kind of way, how I was doing. Instead of just muttering, "Fine," like a normal person, I blurted out “I have breast cancer..." and then proceeded to sob and snot all over myself. Right there in the store in front of my neighbor who I don’t even know that well.
Then there’s the spontaneous nudity. More people have seen my boobs in the last month than in my entire dating career. My tits have been pinched, poked, prodded, palpated, and, most recently, amputated and (somewhat) reconstructed. Every doctor is exceedingly pleased with my “excellent cosmetic result” and all I can think is, I feel like a medical porn star.
And then there’s everything else. I peed in the hospital bed. My butt and lady bits were sponge-bathed by a nurse and then my family. I pooped my pants. (Yup, that happened.) My husband had to empty my blood-and-puss-filled drains. My antibiotics smell like farts — though I haven’t properly showered in weeks, so maybe it’s me who smells like farts. And I’m about to start chemo and all my hair will fall out, a bald proclamation to the world that "Hey, I have cancer!"
But as much as cancer sucks for the person who has it, it also sucks for everyone who loves that person. They feel awkwardly helpless. Luckily, there are some things you can do. Here are seven easy ways to help a friend or loved one with cancer.
1. Don't Ask What You Should Do — Just Do
This is the most important tip I could give. I'm frequently asked, “Do you need anything?” I need to not have this f*cking disease, is what I think, but am mostly too polite to say.
I am overwhelmed with decisions each day — which doctor should I trust? Should I cut off part of my boob or my entire boob? Should I do chemo light, or should I bring out the big guns and leave no stone unturned? Should I shave my head or just let the hair fall out? Should I drink another bottle of green juice? I can’t think about what someone else can do to help me when I’m trying so damn hard to figure out how best to help myself.
Don't ask me to come up with something for you to do — just show up and do one of the things I've suggested below.
2. Help Them Get Rest
This is the No. 1 most important thing needed to heal. Laundry, cleaning, cooking, and child rearing interfere with rest. Like I said above, don't offer to help. Just show up and do things for them so that they can get it.
3. Cook Nutritious Food And Put It In Tupperware
Nutrition is the second-most important aspect of healing. Meals should be comprised of all organic ingredients, in Tupperware, and ready to freeze. Just show up and bring them. Green juice, healing elixirs, tea, and good chocolate are also great (and my husband really appreciates wine).
4. Remind Them That You're Thinking About Them
It seems like a small thing, but a text — even just the heart emoticon — goes a long way. A card, flowers, or a good luck charm can also mean more than you'd think.
Touch is important, too. Holding hands, giving a hug, or rubbing someone’s shoulders can go a long way in communicating to them that you love them. The best way to show you care though? Coming over and telling stories that make them laugh. Laughter is the best.
5. Buy Them Cancer Swag
It might seem like you wouldn't want to remind your friend anymore of their situation, but having cancer swag has really helped me. Warm socks, a cozy blanket, a recovery robe, motivating T-shirts, a FitBit, hats, and scarves are all great. When I wear these items I’m not only more comfortable, but I’m reminded of the people who love me and are rooting for me to kick ass.
6. Entertain Them Whether You Can Come To Chemo Or Not
Cancer is boring as f*ck. Books, magazines, and games all help to while away the recovery and treatment time and make me feel a little less like I'm going out of my mind. Go along and keep them company at chemo if you can, or gift them stuff that will help keep their mind off the treatment.
7. Follow The Golden Rule
It's hard to imagine, but try to think about what you would want if you were facing a physical or emotional hardship that really, really sucked...and just do that. It doesn't have to be complicated, but if you just take care of your friend the way you'd like to be treated, you'll be on the right track.
Images: Mandate Pictures