Supporting Friends & Family with Cancer
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Supporting Friends & Family with Cancer
So our neighbor just, nonchalantly, in an e-mail, told us she
has cancer. Kind of ''sorry I didn't back to you, I have cancer.
But don't worry about me.'' Our families and kids have done
things together but we wouldn't say that we are close friends.
We know there are lots of types of cancer - from merely
inconvenient to fatal. But we do want to respond genuinely and
in a heartfelt way. Again, we know people are different but
were hoping to get some advice, maybe from those who have had
cancer. What might be a touching, supportive, but non-intrusive
way to respond. We're interested in advice of both words and
gestures that would be helpful and those that may not.
Thanks so much for your responses.
I would treat your aquantence the same way you would a friend.
I had a dear friend, who granted, I hardly spoke to over the
years but still, she was a longtime friend who held a place in
my memory. When she got news of cancer, her need to reach out
to those she knew stemmed from, well, if people are going to be
talking about me, I'd rather talk to them first. Who can blame
her. We'd all rather tell the story our way right?
As a long time friend of hers I sent emails, presents & jokes.
Some sent dinners, some sent parties, some took her to lunch,
some helped her with childcare (she has 4 kids). You do what
you can, she had one lady with no kids that just sent her a
baskin robbins gift card for $5 so that her husband could take
the kids out the day of her chemo. You do what you can.
Just give with your whole heart, whatever you give she will be
grateful. Imagine yourself in her shoes. It's a bad stroke of
luck and thats the time you call on your friends, and your
acquanitences (who might be friends someday).
How about an email back, something like:
I am so sorry to hear from you about what you are going through. The
last thing I want
to do is intrude if privacy is what you most need at the moment - but I
do want you to
know that we care deeply about you. If there is anything you want - a
ride to an
appointment, company at any point, or a dish of food - please let me
know. We are
your friends, and we want to help.
I experienced a similar situation but it was done in person by
the acquaintance who was a neighbor.
She downplayed it as well but we found out it was quite serious
and advanced through others. We didn't make any drastic changes
to our relationship but we did go out of our way to be warmer,
more accommodating and sensitive.
In our neighbor's case, it seemed clear to us that she did not
want sympathy but reaching out may have been therapeutic for her.
Perhaps you can find an excuse to reach out in person, even if it
does not include discussing the issue. The personal touch may be
meaningful to the person.
A friend with cancer told me many people come up and share
sloppy, sad stories of everyone else they know who died of
cancer. That may be the kind of ''sharing'' your acquaintance
wishes to avoid.
You could drop by something like some homemade cornbread (I use
the Trader Joe's mix) with a simple card expressing your emotions.
Also, it's nice to think of small concrete ways to help (''Call me
if you need a ride to the doctor.'') Or call if you're going to
the store and ask if they'd like you to pick up something.
I was an oncology nurse for four years and have taken care of
family members with cancer, so these would be my suggestions:
First, I think any response that you make to your friend should
include the word recovery, i.e., ''If there's anything we can do
to support you during your recovery.'' The belief that you
think/feel they will heal is potent medicine in itself. Also, I
would suggest checking in with them periodically. Everyone pays
attention when someone is first diagnosed with cancer, but
friends/acquaintances can fall away and back into their busy
lives, especially if treatment takes awhile. And, finally, I'd
recommend letting them know you care in whatever way seems
appropriate-I realize not everyone is comfortable with the
L-word, but knowing that you are being thought about, prayed for,
still considered to be a valuable member of the community, etc.
can go along way towards recovery.
Best wishes for you and your friend.
My husband was diagnosed with cancer a few years back. Besides
telling our families and extremely close friends, we always found
it awkward to tell even good friends - how do you bring it up in
conversation?! To me, it sounds like your neighbor might be
ready to talk about it if she's mentioned it to you. You might
think about going over and speaking to her in person and not just
responding via e-mail and just let her know that you got her
message and that you are concerned and ask if there is any way
you can help her out. Maybe offer to watch her kids, bring her
dinner if she's too exhausted to cook, run a quick errand or, if
she has a lengthy hospital stay, offer to watch her house, water
her plants, etc. If you do go speak to her in person, you can
also get a sense if she doesn't want to talk about it but then at
least she knows that you are there if she needs some assistance.
What an excellent question. I have had cancer and it was very
hard to talk about it when people were not expecting to hear what
was really going on. I always wanted to tell everyone that things
were ok, that we were doing fine. I had a 5 month old when I was
diagnosed. My advice is to bring over a meal sometime. Don't ask
her if you can, just tell her you made a meal and when can you
bring it over? It was hard for me to ask for help but all
gestures were greatly appreciated and made things easier for us
all. If you are unable to bring over a meal, consider bringing
over a bowl of fruit, a fresh bread with cheese, brownies...
I know friends/family close to me w/ cancer, and I really applaud
your concern...I have to believe that your acquaintance friend
would not have emailed you about her cancer (put it in the email)
if she wasn't reaching out a bit. If she wanted to avoid/deny or
not bring it up, that is nothing that you just happen to mention
in an email. I personally would probably call her or drop her a
note - and let her know that you're thinking of her and am sorry
to hear about her cancer. Asking her a few questions (not to
bombard her) but is she undergoing treatment and when? Can you
offer to watch her child and/or bring a meal? Many folks don't
like to ask for help. So, if you discover that yes, she is going
thru treatment, surgery, etc.. I would drop off a meal or pick up
some groceries. Often, this is very overwhelming to the person
and so don't expect quick repsonse, though, my gut tells me she
mentioned it because she wants to talk, be heard, etc. Good luck
- trust your instincts.
First, definitely respond. One thing that hurt me was when I
would divulge that we were fighting and then a response would not
come, or would come with months of delay and a ''sorry we didn't
respond sooner!''. Yeah I'm thinking, patient could have passed
on by now...
Also, I can tell you that while as you say some cancers end up
being mild, getting a cancer diagnosis is a huge kick in the
stomach. Even if it is an easy fight you don't know that the day
you hear ''cancer'' from the doctor, and you won't know that for
quite some time. So I'm sure they are going through a difficult
So respond, something heartfelt. It sounds like you know nothing
about the situation, so it is hard to offer concrete help. Here
are some words ''We are so very sorry to hear about your recent
health challenges. We would love to help in some way -- leaving
some groceries on the porch in cooler? a homecooked dinner? a
ride to a doctor's appointment?''
Usually dinners and groceries are most appropriate when there is
a patient home from a big surgery, or when chemo has started.
Sometimes a close friend will set up a website to coordinate all
the helpers (since that can be a job in itself). In order to be
helpful, you really need more information. Just saying ''let me
know if I can do anything'', is almost an empty offer since rarely
will someone actually take you up on that. Offering very
concrete things to do sounds much more sincere. If you find out
they are going through chemo or surgery, be very concrete ''I
would like to stop by with dinner Tuesday night''.
Also, obviously, respect their privacy if they give signals that
they would really prefer that.
Good luck, and as a cancer-affected family, thank you for your
-been on the cancer side twice
My husband has had cancer twice and it seemed to me that people
either minimized it (oh, wow, that's too bad. let me know if I can
do anything, see ya) or "tragedized" it (long stories about people
who have beaten it, stories about "fighting" it, etc.) I especially
disliked preaching about how important it is to have a great
attitude. Fact is, having cancer sucks, not because of the cancer
per se (my husband had ZERO symptoms from either cancer and felt
perfectly fine until he was diagnosed) but because the treatment is
just horrendous. Chemotherapy is like having the worst flu you've
ever had in your entire life, about six times in a row. I'm sure there
are some people who have a great attitude throughout this - my husband
was not one of them. And despite not being a puppy upper throughout,
he is totally healthy today (as far as I know). So anyway, speech aside,
I would focus on what treatment your neighbor is having, and find out
if she/he has a close friend who is organizing meals, childcare,
anything she needs. And direct sympathy not for "you're gonna die, you
must be freaking out" but for just the really bad luck that drawing the
cancer card means. And -- as the spouse -- if there is a spouse in the
picture, give him/her your sympathy and support too. It is NO fun to
be married to someone who is sick and scared.
Having been through cancer myself, along with other family
members, I wanted to respond to your question. You are right to
find out how you can help. There were many suggestions to drop
by with a meal--remember that cancer treatment frequently
affects appetite and taste, as well as the ability to eat at
all. Unsolicited meals may be helpful for feeding the
patient's family, but for the one who is ill, its a good idea
to ask what they can eat and what they want. For the longest
time, I could only eat root beer popsicles, and a box of these
was the perfect gift. Some people find ginger tea helps with
nausea, cds of Hawaiian guiar or guided relaxation were perfect
fall down seven times get up eight
I know you've received many words of wonderful advice. I just
wanted to add that, as a massage therapist with training in
oncology massage, I have been hired by friends of people living
with cancer as a gift to those folks and/or their families or
caregivers. I work in clinics (the Institutes for Health and
Healing in San Francisco and Larkspur) and do hospital-based
massage at Alta Bates Summit Medical Center. But I also travel to
the homes of those undergoing treatment, or see people whose
healing requires rest and not a lot of appointments outside the
home, other than for doctors, etc. In some cases, I am contracted
by friends and family to be available to someone as they need me,
depending on their treatment and individual health issues. I love
It is enough -- it is a lot -- to simply say what you feel and
ask how you can help, and I love that you are looking for ways to
do that. It is great that you care.
When I had breast cancer, the thing I hated most was when people
would come up to me and say, ''How ARE you,'' as if they saw me
first as someone with cancer, and secondly as a friend. I also
disliked people telling me I was brave or that they couldn't
imagine doing what I was doing.
Of course they could. It sure beats the alternative. So my advice
is to see her first as a friend. Another thing I would suggest is
to have someone (you or a closer friend) organize people to make
and deliver a week or two of meals. This is especially good for
people who want to help, but don't know how.
To make things easier during my recovery, I asked a friend to
organize two weeks of meals to be delivered to my house. My son,
who was 6, loved coming home to a basket on our porch and
wondering what treat was in store for us that night.
A grateful cancer survivor
I can relate to the situation. I went through cancer as a young mother
with a baby
and a toddler.
Cancer is hard to bring up in conversation. My diagnosis became more
time I said it out loud. Also, you never know how other people react. If
brought up the subject please react.
You can send a simple note. I got get well cards from people I had never
(husband's colleagues). If you want to talk to your friend focus more on
let her do talking. If you actually want to help ask her what she needs
something precise. Child care, meal, house cleaning will certainly be
helpful. I had a
relative who came every Tuesday to clean my kitchen while my kids and I
When my toddler woke up she played with her so that I could rest. That
was one of
the nicest things anyone has ever done to me. Someone else brought
nutritious meal and played with the kids while I ate so I actually had
time to eat.
Even though the prognosis would be good cancer diagnosis is always huge
scary. It takes up all the energy one has. Patients don't have energy to
and ask for meals or child care or send thank you notes. Please be
proactive. It will
My 64 yo mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer two weeks ago.
I live near by but have four small kids and other
responsibilites. One of my sisters lives with her but she also
has two small chldren and is expecting her third as well. My
father passed away 10 years ago. It has become plainly obvious
already that neither of us is equipped emotionally or
energetically to take on the care of shuttling her to
appointments and other stuff. She will be going in for
exploratory surgery tomorrow and may then follow through with
chemotherapy. Both situations are going to leave her in need
of a lot of help. She has a solid group of friends and is also
involved with a local ''Red Hat Ladies'' social network. I was
wondering if anyone had advice on how we (her children) might
put these networks of people best to use in order to lighten
the burden that this could potentially have on myself and my
one sister who is living with her. It has already become ''too
much'' emotionally and has taken a toll on us even before we
really get started here which is not a good sign.
Thanks in advance,
Well, I'm very sorry to hear about your mom. I hope everything
goes smoothly for her.
Sounds like she has a good social network besides you and your
sister. Ask your mother who in her circle she would like to help
her and if it's okay to ask a few people. Private information
will soon become VERY public and sometimes it's a shock to the
person to realize that her friends are talking about how much
she's pooping or something like that!! I would then start
emailing or calling her circle and ask if they can help and in
what capacity. Please know that everyone can't do every task,
what I mean is: people have different talents and strengths and
it really helps to know what each person is capable of and what
their limits are.
If everyone IS on email then you can set up a Yahoo groups
network with everyone who wants to be involved. I did this when a
friend was very sick. We set up a calendar (in Yahoo) of regular
days that people could visit, do errands, the laundry, take her
to appointments, bring meals, bring DVDs and books. etc. It
worked beautifully. We also sent out a list of eachothers phone
numbers in case we needed to TALK (and programmed them into the
cell phones!). We also had a bulletin board in the kitchen where
we would write messages to the next person coming about what is
needed at the store, or phone messages for our friend, and had
emergency numbers on hand. The people who could afford it pooled
their money and hired someone to come twice a month to do the
heavy cleaning. That felt a load off our shoulders.
We had tons of food at first and soon had to sort that out
according to what she felt like eating, WHEN she did. IF she has
to take regular meds make sure that someone is in charge of that.
Those daily pill holders for the day and evening are really
helpful to keep track of what meds need to be taken and when. For
pain management she can also try hot pads, and massage. Women's
Cancer Research Center in Berkeley might be helpful for more info
Make sure there are people coming around who are positive and
uplifting. Attitude is really important, though not if it's
phony. All the grandchildren will probably be a great
encouragement for her too.
I'm sure you will manage it. Lots of luck!
My neighbor was recently diagnosed with colon cancer. She and her
husband have two young sons. Can anyone recommend any books that
help explain what their mother is going through? Doesn't have to
specifically explain colon cancer, but something along those
lines. Thank you in advance.
Just want to help
I don't have specific information about children's books about
cancer, but can offer two resources for information.
Circle of Care
in Oakland is a good resource for parents and children
experiencing life threatening illness.
Cancer Compass has an
online message board where you can ask questions and receive
answers from other patients, caregivers, and friends.
information is out there if you know where to look.
I have two suggestions: 1. Another Morning, by Linda Blachman is a very good book
about mothers with cancer. It contains interviews with many mothers who are
dealing with a cancer diagnosis at different stages of the disease (some just
diagnosed, some having a recurrence, and some dying of cancer). I found the book
deeply moving, but also enlightening. 2. The journalist Marjorie Williams recently
died of cancer. She chronicled her experience in an essay titled 'Hit by
Cancer Memoir.' She was an excellent and insightful writer, and this essay is no
exception. I found it in a collection of her writings, called The Woman at the
Washington Zoo, edited by Timothy Noah (her husband).
A very dear friend, and the mother of a 7 year old, has been
diagnosed with cancer. She began chemotherapy today. Our
community has rallied around wonderfully - we have arranged
dinners to be delivered 3 times a week, to always have a family
on-call for childcare, and are looking into a housekeeper.
My question is, what else can we do? People who have been
through this, what helped you out? We were thinking of putting
together care packages for after each chemo session - what should
go into it? Will she be suffering from nausea, dry mouth, hair
loss, or what? What will help alleviate those - special teas,
popsicles, hard candies, ???? Any ideas will be appreciated!
in shock, but rallying
I'm fortunate enough not to have direct experience with chemo,
but here is a site that may make it easier to coordinate care:
It's an online scheduling tool for caregivers. The person needing
care (or their family/friends) posts a list of what is needed and
when (e.g. dinner on Thursday, kids to soccer on Saturday...) and
people sign up. It also allows you to post photos, updates, etc.
Your friend is lucky to have you
Check out http://circusofcancer.org/ - lots of advice for people
with a friend with cancer.
How wonderful that you and your community are so generous to a
friend in need. I don't have any specific advice, but can
recommend the NCI website for free publications that you may find
Some of the publications include tips on coping with chemotherapy
side effects, meal and snack ideas, etc. My mother was diagnosed
with cancer earlier this year and I found these tips to be helpful.
One other thing... periodically and when the time is right, ask
your friend what you can do to help. As simple as that sounds,
we often overlook it. And her needs, both physical and
emotional, will change over time.
I applaud you and your community. It really takes a village and
having a good supportive network thru cancer treatment (and post)
is so key. I think that all you're doing is fantastic - I just
might suggest that you also realize that your friend may want to
be reminded of her non-cancer life - talk about other things, etc..
A great resource - www.circusofcancer.org.
When I read your posting my heart went out to you all.
I think that you all are doing and giving such great gifts and that is
that I can think is are these:
1. The gift of time (invite over for dinner, a sleepover for the
daughter, a movie
certificate, time spent together certificate, listening and reaching
2. Things that are favorites to be enjoyed when she is feeling well.
(a favorite tea,
meal, favorite songs, favorite books, positive quotes, positive words of
encouragment, a listening ear...)
3. Remember to include things for her daughter, because her daughter
feeling some stress and needs support.
Blessings to you!
Unfortunately, I've gone thru this more than a few times. My suggestion
is to ask
your friend what she needs. Most often we go into ''hero mode'' and
think that all of
the support is what a person wants, when what they really want is a
break, time to
themselves and time to figure out what they need. In other cases, there
who don't know what they need, and can't ask for help, but if she's a
good friend you
would have learned that about her a long time ago, and know what to do
do). May god bless your friend.
Dear Friend- I think it is just great that you are so thoughtful
about your friend's needs when she's in chemo. May I share a
refection or two about my cancer treatment? Your network is
right on the dot when it comes to preprepared meals. After the
first day or two you are hungry and certainly your family is no
matter how you feel. So providing dinners is great. My friends
gave me a gift certificate to Home on the Range and that was
wonderful. The hair thing freaks you out even if you are trying
to be brave...it's a nasty feeling to have your hair come out in
huge clumps. Scheduling an appointment with a hairdresser and
going with her to have her hair shaved or clipped short at about
Day 15 of the first round will preempt that yuckkiness. Also
making little soft caps from fleece for her would be super. I
didn't realize HOW cold my head would get at night. I ended up
wrapping clean underpants around my head (You can tell I had this
experience a few years back) Don't let your friend be a
superwoman. INSIST that she let you or another go with her to
her chemo. It's really boring and very creepy no matter how
cheerful the staff is. I went alone because my children were too
young to come and I didn't want to be a burden to my friends.
What a mistake.
The biggest thing on the list is a positive
outlook no matter what the doctors say. They are all way too
cautious and you keep thinking ''Am I going to live or not...will
somebody just let me know for goodness sake'' They never do.
Must be an insurance liability issue. So tell your friend EVERY
day for a while You ARE going to make it!!!!All the studies say
that she will. And when she has any kind of little concern about
how she's feeling on treatment or follow up treatment urge her to
call the advice nurse and not feel as though she's bugging
anyone. It's been 11 years for me, but I still get days of nerve
pain from my mastectomy and my energy level has never been the
same. No one has to be a hero...just remember that for a while,
she'll think every new ache and pain is cancer (I still do when I
have indigestion!) and that the chemo and follow up meds are
forms of poison that will save her, but she need not feel
ungrateful for her chance to a full life if she complains
occasionally about the side effects. God Bless Both of You-Susan
My father was recently told by his pulmonary doctor that there
are some ''fuzzy areas'' on x-rays of his lungs. Consequently my
father will have a CT scan and be given the results a few days
later. I plan on attending his appointment when he finds out
if he has lung cancer. I am hoping for the best but want to
make sure I am prepared for the worst but I have no idea what
questions I should ask the doctor if my father does indeed have
cancer. I know my father will be devastated so it is important
for me to be the ''question asker'' and ''information gatherer''.
If anyone has been in a similar situation and can guide me or
provide me with some resources, I would certainly appreciate
My dad was diagnosed with another cancer when he was 62. He lived
over a year before passing away. Though I wasn't with him for the
diagnosis (a wonderful support you'll give your dad), I moved
back to California to be with him that last year. My dad was
organized, intellectual and logical. He was so overwhelmed by the
diagnosis and treatment sometimes that it really helped him to
have me around to remember and reflect. He made his own
decisions, researched, tried treatments, and was quite engaged in
the process. But having me along as one of the closest companions
during that year was so important to us both. Perhaps keep a
three ring binder to take notes that pages and sections can be
added to as things develop. Or not! I wish you the best possible
- in empathy
You are very smart to inquire before the appointement. My
father was diagnosed in 2001 and my parents were so afraid they
asked nothing and consequently were told nothing. Lung cancer
is now fairly well 'read'' by doctors now so if you have
questions chances are you will get clear answers.
I would definitely ask the stage (1,2 3 or 4). Write down
everything, especially majore words. If for some reasons he
doesn't want to give a stage or isn't talkative, those major
words will help in looking for info on the net. The treatement
is also an indicator. Between just that (chemotherapy only) and
the couple words my mom mentioned i figured out he was a stage
4 and had 1 year max...which all turned out to be accurate. But
really aside from the stage, kind of lung cancer and treatement
he might not say much more. good luck
The father of one of my good friends just found out he has a
tumor in his lungs and it has metasasised to his lymph nodes,
bone, and possibly liver. He has never smoked in his life, yet
the cancer is the type that smokers get (he does live in HK,
and it might be from the pollution there). The strange thing
is, he feels fine and would not have found out except for a
routine physical required to renew his drivers license (he is
around 70 years old). He does not want chemotherapy, because it
has a very small chance of helping him and will destroy his
currently good quality of life. Does anyone know of alternative
treatments for lung cancer? He lives in HK but is willing to
travel anywhere for treatments. Thank you!
I am so sorry to hear about your friend's father. My father is in the
final stages of metastasized lung cancer (he is expected to live a few
more months). Once the cancer reaches the bones, it is extremely
painful and most recommendations on treatments seem to be about pain
management. Radiation does seem to be quite effective in eliminating
pain, but there still are side effects. My father has gotten relief
from the pain through radiation and has also gotten some of his
mobility back. Chemotherapy is still a possibilty, but probably
I do not know of any exceptional places for treatment, but would
suggest that your friend consider where her father would like to live
for the remainder of his time.
Directly to the point: there are no alternative treatments for
lung cancer. I know two people who have had metasticized lung
cancer. They were both in their sixties and otherwise healthy.
Both had their cancers discovered following what they thought
was a cold that would not go away. One person had never smoked
at all. She continued to work while getting chemotherapy. She
is still working and getting treatment a year later because the
cancer never went into remission, although it has metasticized
to the bones.
The other person was a relative and a smoker, and I went to all
appointments with her for two years. She had chemo and
radiation treatment. She went into remission after her first
round of chemo, and was cancer free for the next two years, and
then died of something totally unrelated.
Chemo/radiation will not necessarily ruin your friend's quality
of life if he is otherwise healthy. They are the only tools
that might extend his life. Without chemo, lung cancer patients
go downhill quickly, because it quickly metasticizes to other
areas, including the brain.
Your father's friend was very lucky to have found his lung cancer
before he had symptoms. Since this is so unusual, I would
recommend a second opinion to ensure that there was not some type
of mix-up in the x-rays.
If the diagnosis is confirmed, I would suggest a two-week luxury
vacation with an emphasis on healthy activities and diet.
Healthy patients have a longer survival time.
It would take two weeks to get an appointment at the Mayo Clinic
in any case. Go to www.mayoclinic.org/lung-cancer/ to make an
appointment. Several clinical trials at the Mayo Clinic have
openings and there are some new options for treatment that might
provide new hope.
A good friend of mine was just diagnosed with breast cancer. It
was caught fairly early and will be treated with about three
sessions of chemo and a few months of radiation.
My question is, she lives across the country and I am at a loss
for how to support her. If I was there, I could take her to
treatment, walk her dog, etc. Besides sending cards, making
regular phone calls, what do you think would help? I can send
flowers from time to time, but was wondering if the smell of
flowers might be sickening to someone undergoing treatment
(does it make you sensitive to smells?) Are chocolates a good
idea, or ditto previous? Relaxation tapes?
I realize that treatments vary and affect people differently.
But I'm kind of floundering here. Is there anyone out there who
has gone through this personally or with a friend? What made
you feel better? What kind of support was most helpful? Thanks
Want to help
There is a website created by a local mom that addresses exactly the
questions you are
asking. It's www.circusofcancer.org.
I am sure your friendship and phone calls are invaluable. I
went through something similar with someone close to me and some
of the extras I did included:
hiring someone to clean their house
sending funny movies and TV shows, with the idea that humor is
good medicine. He especially appreciated The Simpsons and old
Saturday Night Lives. The shorter length of The Simpsons was
perfect when his energy was low and he found it surprisingly
Helping the helpers - find out how her family is doing, send
things her kids might like or to help her husband
Chocolate is great for chemo. people say it is hard to get the
taste of the chemo drugs out of their mouth.
It is tricky. People have major needs when they are struggling
with cancer but when someone says ''what can I do?'', they often
don't want to impose or cannot think of anything in the moment.
I say, err on the side of doing too much - send stuff, call a
lot, anticipate needs.
Also a friend
I'm sorry about your friend's diagnosis. I feel for you and can
empathize with your situation. Check out this web site which I
found really helpful - www.circusofcancer.org. Do check in with
your friend consistently to let her know you're thinking of her -
but realize that she may be overwhelmed/tired and not want the
pressure of returning calls/emails.. Even a little note in the
mail or feel good care package is wonderful. And, remember that
your friend probably wants to talk about other things besides her
cancer. It's been amazing to me how some friends really step up -
and others find this too hard and simply disappear from the
picture. Good luck!
The Wellness Community in Walnut Creek is really a great
resource. Even if you are not a group type of person they have a
lot of classes and referrals available.
On a personal note, my surgeon was Nima Grissmon in San
Francisco. Although your insurance covers the East Bay she might
be good for a second opinion. She is very direct and
compassionate and I know other women who have had similar
experiences with her.
My sister in Oregon just underwent treatment for breast cancer. I
would suggest really just staying in touch with your friend
through the process as the best way to help. Ask her what she
needs. I found a meal service that delivers meals as well as did
some online grocery shopping for my sister. Something like that
may or may not be an option for your friend depending on where
she lives...also treatment will likely make her pretty nauseous
so you would need to take that into account. I would call the
American Cancer Society (800-ACS-2345) to find out what support
services they have in the area in which your friend lives. They
often have volunteers who can drive people to appointments and
Reach to Recovery which is a support program led by breast cancer
survivors who help newbies navigate the whole, challenging path.
Just staying in regular contact with your friend to deal with the
ups and downs will be big help!
I am currently getting chemotherapy for breast cancer. Many
women gain weight on chemo so chocolate may not be the best gift.
I enjoy flowers that friends send from time to time. Mostly I
like their cards, emails and phone calls. Know her chemo
schedule and check in with her the next day to see how she's
doing. Ask specific questions so she can feel ''OK'' about talking
about how she is feeling. I often don't want to seem like I'm a
whimp or complaining so I will try to not talk about my side
effects unless specifically asked. If she doesn't already have a
house cleaning service and you can afford it, get her some visits
from Merry Maids or some other national cleaning company. Also
she may appreciate some earrings as a gift. Earrings are really
important when you are bald. Netflix and good paperbacks are
other good things I have gotten from friends. I couldn't get
through this without my friends. She will appreciate your caring
and support. Sorry your friend has to go through this.
Hi, I'm a woman who has had breast cancer and my advice is to
stay in touch with your friend by telephone, be available to
really listen to her and just let her talk. What is useful is to
sympathize with what she's going through(without trying to
change anything and without making suggestions), and beyond that
take your cues from her. I always appreciated messages from
friends that they were ''thinking of me'' without expecting me to
call them back. And also offers of very practical and specific
help, like grocery shopping, or preparing meals. I loved
flowers, and if your friend likes them an occasional flower
delivery would be nice. More practical things like paying to
have someone clean her house. Also, cards to let her know you
are thinking of her. Another idea is to send her something
pretty to wear, a lovely robe, a nightie, something personal for
her that is NOT about cancer. Those are some ideas of things you
can do from a distance.
Knows the Territory
So sorry to hear what you're going through. Women's Cancer
Resource Center is a great place with loads of resources from
treatments to practitioners to alternative therapies. They also
have support groups. Dr Cassidy with the Alta Bates/Herrick
Cancer Center is a doctor I've referred many people to. He's
very skilled, with a warm heart too. Lisa Bailey is an
outstanding surgeon who's office is across from Herrick. She's
been incredible with a friend of mine who was also diagnosed in
her early 40's, also a mother. I wish you well.
How wonderful that you want to ''be there'' for your friend even
though you're miles away. During my current experience with
breast cancer, one of the most amazing things my friends did was
have a virtual ''hat shower'' the week after my first chemo
treatment. I received 5 hats the first day, 3 the second day, 3
the third day, and 1 the fourth day--they arrived via FedEx, UPS,
messenger, and US Mail. Another thing I valued was receiving
books--not scientific or inspirational, but darn good escapist
reading. Episodic DVDs are good too. One friend loaned me seasons
two and three of ''24''; another friend loaned me both seasons of
The hardest thing for me to deal with was all of the food--people
want to nurture you--but during chemo our taste changes
dramatically and our refrigerators/freezers fill up fast.
I also enjoyed all of the cards I received, and still enjoy
reading them when I'm feeling lonely or low. You may also want to
organize some of your friends to join you on one of the many
breast cancer walks in her honor. (You'll find more good ideas on
Your friend is lucky to have you in her court.
My Aunt underwent treatment for breast cancer very much like your
friend and she lived on the east coast. The best support I found is
calling every week as I always did and just talked about anything and
listened and encouraged her. I know she couldn't eat chocolate during
the treatments (some negative reason while undergoing treatment) as I
sent her some expensive chocolates and she couldn't have them.
Flowers once in a while, but not a lot as they cause attention. A
note, a picture of you and if you have a family...If you can make a
visit once, that would be great as well. Just be the friend you
always have been
During my husbands treatment the most helpful thing a far away
friend could do was schedule a visit. Ask when to visit during
treatment to provide support or in between treatments to provide
you might want to think about a gift of clothing that is not
especially cancer-related. Chemo can make you lose weight,
or gain weight (my best friend lost a lot of weight during hers,
my husband gained weight during chemo but lost it during
radiation). People don't like to buy new clothes for their
temporarily different-sized body but it is nice have things
that actually fit while you are going through this.
my other suggestion is include in your phone conversations
topics other than her cancer. Don't of course ignore that aspect
about what is going on, but tell her about your kids, ask about hers,
talk about shopping, movies, politics, anything you normally
chatted about with her. Don't let the friendship be all about
the cancer. It is the strongest message you can send that she
will get through this.
I'm sorry to hear about your friend. She is lucky to have you
asking such a question. Very thoughtful. I have breast cancer
and am just finishing up my last chemo. People have been
amazing and I can give you a few ideas. First of all, there is
a great website called circusofcancer.org that specifically
answers your question about support for a friend. Personally,
I love flowers-always help brighten my day and a good reminder
of the love out there coming my way. No problem with the
chemo. Gift certificates are always appreciated, if you have
the money. You could figure out some good take out or delivery
places in her neighboorhood. You could also contribute to a
maid service. Maybe she'd like a massage. You could send a
care package with little things she might enjoy. In all
honesty, you don't need to spend a lot of money though. People
sent me really nice cards and emails with words of
encouragement that meant a lot to me. So--hope this helps and
best wishes for healing for your friend.
Your friend with breast cancer would probably enjoy gifts related
to good news about preventing the recurrence of breast cancer.
For example, exercise has been shown to prevent the onset and
recurrence of breast cancer. Would your friend appreciate a pair
of ice skates or a gym membership? There is also good news about
healthy oils. Would your friend like a gift of California
extra-virgin olive oil? Would she enjoy ''Fruit of the Month''
I would not send sweets or alcohol. Alcohol use is the most
well-established dietary risk factor for breast cancer and has
been shown to be the reaon that white women in Marin have a
slightly higher breast-cancer rate.
When breast cancer hit our household, one of the nicest things
a friend of mineon the East Coast did was call Merry Maids and
paid for my house ot be cleaned (she is a lawyer, so she
actually paid for 6 cleanings, but even 1 time would have been
great!). Much better than flowers.
I am so sorry about your friend! And thank you for wanting to
help. I have not had breast cancer (thank god) but have some
friends who have had. Each seemed to need something different in
the way of support, from one friend who called to tell me what
was going on and that she did not want to talk or get together
until it was all over. I sent her regular cards, and waited
until she was ready to reconnect. Other friends have needed much
more support. You'll need to check with your friend about what
is allowed--I once brought a potted plant to a friend about to
undergo treatment only to see her smile and say she'd have to
leave it outside because the treatment would weaken her immune
system to the point where she might get a fungal infection from
it. I felt terrible. So what can you do? Cards, letters, a
magazine subscription to something fun, meal subscriptions (there
are places you can mail order gourmet meals). You could call up
a local restaurant and ask them to deliver. I have a friend
who's husband is very ill and a friend of hers started an email
''how-to-help'' list for well-wishers: when she needs help of any
kind--grocery shopping, emergency babysitter, even a fence
mended--out goes an email to the list and someone volunteers to
help out. It's worked very well. My best wishes to you both.
I've just heard from a dear friend living in the midwest that
she has bone cancer. It does not sound good. She previously had
breast cancer, has been in full remission for 8 years, and now
this. She's been going through radiation, will have chemo and
some painful injected drug course. I'm wondering if anyone else
close to someone who is dealing with a chronic, possibly fatal
disease, can share ideas of how to send love and comfort from
the distance. She isn't up to visits, and I'm sending frequent
emails, but am searching for more to do. She has no kids of her
own, but a wonderful husband whom I'm sure is just suffering
himself. Any specific ideas for resources in the Kansas City
(MO) area would be really great.
Searching for ways to help
I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. My high school friend
of 20 yrs past away from breast cancer last year 2-mos shy of
her 40th birthday. See lived in TX. When I found out she had
terminal cancer & was too sick for visitors, I put together a
little memory book for her. I dug out all my high school
photos & found about 5 or so that represented our friendship
together. I found a pretty little picture-sized scrapbook with
a ribbon binding. I wrote a general message to her on the
first page of the book. Then I put each photo in the book with
on the opposite page a little story about our friendship & the
circumstances around the photo. Not only did I make this
little memory book for my friend, but also for her children as
a keepsake. All the photos showed their mother, young, vibrant
& smiling. That's how I'd hope her family remembers her as that
was truly her spirit. I later found out that she took this
memory book to all her dr & chemo visits to show everyone. I'm
still very touched as to how special this little book was to
her & I truly believe that it was the greatest gift I could
have given her. A few other more practical ideas, I also sent
her family gift cards for local resturants as her husband was
having a difficult time with all the cooking. (I said the gift
cards were in lieu of a hotdish that I would have brought them,
had I lived near.) We also looked into helping out by
anomously paying for some of her medical expenses that were
starting to add up. We also looked into a house cleaning
service in her area. In lieu of these 2 ideas, we simply sent
Visa gift cards to be used on whatever the family needed. Hope
some of these ideas will be good for you.
I am dealiing with the exact same situation, although my friend lives in another
Here are some things that I have done. Since my friend is not one to ask for
favors, I called her husband to see what would be helpful. He was more forthcoming
(it's also REALLY hard to be the spouse of someone battling cancer -- you are
to be unfailingly supportive and not express anxieties of your own). I found a
that delivered home-cooked meals to their house, and did that a few times. They
very grateful. From time to time, I send books and DVDs that I know she would like
(timed to arrive right when she is recuperating from treatments). Good luck. She
lucky to have you as a friend.
I'm sorry to hear about your friend's illness. It sounds grave
I just lost a very beloved and long-time friend to cancer
earlier in the year. She similarly lived a quite a distance
and I wasn't able to be a part of her daily support system. A
mutual friend, Maria, came up with a wonderful idea, which
brought great joy to my friend before her death. To celebrate
our friend's (last) birthday, Maria sent out an email inviting
us to contribute a birthday page for a scrapbook she then
assembled. Maria collected lots of email addresses and sent
this invitation to a wide circle of family, friends, and
colleagues. She ultimately assembled an incredible fifty-page
scrapbook that our friend just adored and read over and over
before her death. Some folks went to great lengths, adding
poems, photos, souvenirs. Centering it on our friend's
birthday was uplifting and joyful.
It's something you could assemble from afar and might be a
deeply important gift to someone wondering how they'll be
remembered. It was also a gift to each of us who contributed a
page, allowing us to express our love for our friend, reminisce
with her about the great times we shared together over the last
twenty years, and help us in the process prepare ourselves for
I know she treasured her book and when she read it she said it
was like we were all in the room with her.
Which we were.
I just received word yesterday that my aunt is dying of
malignant breast cancer. She's been getting treatment for the
last couple of years and we thought we had hope but now the
cancer has gotten progressively worse that she's got tumors the
size of grapefruit on the sides of each breast and she's given
up on radiation because she frankly can't afford it anymore.
She lives in a rural part of Mexico and had to commute by bus
for 2 hours to get a little bit of treatment for the amount of
money she could pay. She's too tired now she says and will live
life the fullest she can. She has a down syndrome child who is
now an adult and she worries very much about him as to what's
going to happen to him when she passes on. She has grown
children and my uncle that are doing their best to make her life
as comfortable as possible.
So what's my question, frankly,
I've never had someone so close to me affected by breast cancer,
and I'm simply overwhelmed at my response. I can't stop
thinking about her and crying my eyes out for her. She's such a
good person, she's been such a wonderful and supportive strong
mother to her children and faithful, loyal partner to her
husband, and a wonderful aunt with whom I share fond memories of
childhood. I'm simply devastated and I've been crying myself to
sleep thinking about the pain she must be feeling emotionally,
spiritually, and of course physically. My husband whose father
passed on of throat cancer suggests I do all I can possible to
send her good vibes, keep her in my prayers, send her financial
sustenance that we can afford, and think positive; making her
feel worse by feeling extremely sad is not helpful to her. I
try of course to keep a strong face when I talk to her, but in
the shadow of the night when the house is quiet, the blob of
tears simply roll down my weathered cheeks. I want to celebrate
her life now that she's still with us and be happy, but I simply
don't know how. Please, anybody, advise. Thank you.
I really feel for you. A very close friend of mine just passed away from
cared for her (along with many others) for the past year. I don't think
there is an
easy answer here. Can you visit your aunt and spend some time with her?
make her time left here easier by helping with the housework and the son
Maybe also helping your uncle figure out how the son will be cared for,
be a comfort to him. Even a week, if you are going as far as Mexico. I
spent a long
weekend with my favorite aunt when she started to get worse from
symptoms. It was a nice visit, though heartbreaking. I was glad to have
special time with her before she passed. I helped her clean her kitchen
and she really appriciated it (as did my uncle). We took a daytrip to
basically enjoyed eachother.
It does hurt, awfully. Time is a great healer and while right now you
may not want to
completely let go of your pain, try to mobilze yourself to be with her
while you can.
You will both find comfort in it.
When my mother was dying of cancer she loved getting notes form
people (without obligations to sned them replies. She loved the
notes that told of a fond memory that the writer and she had
shared. She was very touched to hear in these notes how much she
meant to these different peopl. I think she had little idea of
the positive and strong and lasting impact she had on somany
friends and family members. She also liked the phone calls, too.
But as she became weaker, the phone calls were harder to gather
energy for. So I recommend that you call her often , if she has
a phone, and tell her the stories you remember from your
childhood. Ask her about stories from her own childhood. She
may be recalling many of them now. You can also send her little
notes, and perhaps encourage your siblings and cousins to do the
same. As she is reviewing her life, these things will affirm for
her how important she is to those around her. These things will
bring her joy, even in a time of difficult transition.
Also, it is okay to cry anytime. It is fine to cry when you are
at your home in the middle of the night. It is fine to cry all
of a sudden in the middle of the day, when those around you may
be mystified. It is okay to talk about your aunt's illness and
upcoming death with those around you. Death should not be a
taboo subject. You may find that some of those around you have
been through similar phases in their lives. They may be helpful.
- May you find Peace
It sounds like you are grieving for your aunt. Very normal. maybe
meeting with Howard
Lunche, a grief counselor, would be helpful to you. He can be reached
I would like advice from families whose Mother had breast
cancer. What gave you strength? How did your family provide
emotional support for your Mom and Dad? What would you do
different if you could do it all again?
My 65 year old mother has been fighting breast cancer for ten
years. Her cancer has spread to many parts of her body and is
Stage IV. We know this might be her last year.
My Mom and Dad relocated from out of state to receive treatment
at UCSF after unsuccessful treatment at MD Anderson. My father
has been her primary caregiver and is emotionally fatigued. My
sister, husband, and I are the only people they regularly see.
My Mom is scared and lonely. My Dad is frightened and coping
the best he can. My family has been thinking about hiring an
assistant for my Mom who can provide her with companionship.
She would like to find someone who has some medical training,
fluent in Mandarin, and enjoys reading the bible. She wants
someone who will hold her hand and give her comfort.
Does anyone have any advice on how they helped their parents
with cancer? Did you have any positive experiences with support
groups that you could recommend?
Any life lessons learned that you would like to share? What to
expect as the last chapter closes? How to find a companion for
my Mom - is this something hospitals can refer?
Thankful for Each Day
UCSF (and most hospitals) have caregiver support groups, and also
support groups for patients -- though I don't think they have any
in Mandarin, but it would be worth checking. There are also
specific social services for patients with breast cancer and
their families. I think your father would benefit from your
mother having a companion, so that he could have a few hours to
take care of himself, or rest. Your parents are fortunate that
you are able to help and research this for them.
I am sorry you and your family are going through this. My father died of cancer 7
years ago and the death of a parent, especially one that is close, is a pain that will
stay with you. An amazing book, for you and you father is Final Gifts: Understanding
the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying. I feel lucky to
have read it while my father was still alive. It helped me to understand the process
he was going through and how best to help and support him. It also helped me
work through my feelings and complex emotions. It was written by two hospice
nurses and addresses all of the questions you listed in your post. It is not a long
book, you could read it in a day or two. Sadly, my mother (his primary care giver)
was not ready to read the book and she struggled with the entire process which I
felt was really unfair to my father, it really put a strain on him and prolonged his
suffering. But after reading the book, I felt at peace with the situation, I had clarity,
and I was able to say Goodbye to my father - I know he appreciated my strength,
honesty and courage (all qualities that i was quick to point out, I learned from him).
Your mother still has much to teach you, even in this stage - be open to her. I wish
you and your family the best on this journey.
I am so sorry to hear about your mother's struggle. I am also
very glad to hear that she is close enough to you so that you
can spend time with her. My husband's mother died of
pancreatic cancer over 3 years ago. I would say that the best
thing he ever did during her short struggle with the disease
was to simply spend time with her. During her ''last'' weeks --
who can ever truly know how long a person will continue to
live -- doctors are not gods in that sense, my husband stopped
his medical residency training and went to spend time with her
out of state. To me, that initally seemed a risky move, for we
were basically living like students at that time, month to
month on only his salary. But I supported him because that was
what he wanted to do. She lived a bit beyond what her doctor
had anticipated to be her last few days, but my husband never
ever has regretted being there for her. He was there for her
and he was there for himself as a son, as a way to support and
love her. He was with her the night she died and I believe he
feels that is the best gift he could have given the mother who
gave her entire life to him. So I would suggest being there as
much as you can and care to, even if it seems a bit
inconvenient financially or a bit unrealistic. You won't
And with regards to young children, we tried to get our son up
to see her immediately after her diagnosis, for we knew things
would change for the worst very quickly with this particular
line of cancer. And in the end, when she was heavily
medicated and in and out of conciousness, we kept him away so
he would remember his grandmother in his mind's eye in her
healthy state -- he was only 1 1/2
Best to you
I'm sorry to hear about your mom and your family's situation. It
sounds like your mom could benefit from some support. Check out
the Community Breast Health Project: http://www.cbhp.org. They
are a great free resource for breast cancer patients and
families, and are located in Palo Alto. You can call them and
explain your situation - I'm sure they can help find you
resources you need.
UCSF also has support resources - ask the oncology nurses for
more information. There are many support groups around the bay
area affiliated with different hospitals (depending on where it
is convenient for you) - some for patients, for families,
spouses, etc. They are open to anyone. It can be incredibly
helpful to know that you're not alone when dealing with breast
cancer. Don't hesitate to ask for help!
--- a breast cancer survivor
Hi- My otherwise healthy 58 year old mother just recently
received the grim diagnosis of Stage IV pancreatic cancer. Does
anyone out there have any experience with successful
alternative treatments? I am particularly interested in herbs
or supplements which she could use WITH chemotherapy.
Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
You have my every sympathy. I lost my wife to pancreatic cancer
about a decade ago, and it's still painful to think about. As
for the question of alternative therapies, my opinion is that
your love and attention are be best 'alternative' therapies. If
your love and attention includes use of one or another strange
concoction, then so be it.
About more conventional 'palliative therapies', I have two
thoughts: 1) Pain control is of utmost importance. To say that
pain affects the quality of life is an understatement. It's
worth paying a great deal of effort to pain control. 2)
Sometimes paying attention to other details can be helpful.
my mom's husband just got diagnosed with a virulent cancer and we
are unclear on how to be supportive. i've found a lot
of information on how to deal with cancer but not a lot on
how family (both for my mom and for us) can help without being
inappropriately cheerful or gloomy. are there things we can
send (relaxation videos), things we can read to help us help him
that anyone knows about? thanks.
I am so sorry to hear of your father-in-law's cancer. Several
year's ago when I was dealing with a parent's late-stage cancer,
I was given a book which helped me infinitely. The book is
called Who Dies? by author Stephen Levine, a meditation
teacher who spent part of his career working with hospice
patients. During this period of his illness, I picked it up
frequently and read random pages or chapters, and found it always
helpful. Who Dies? was also recorded as a set of lectures. Good
luck to all of you.
I am sorry to hear about your mother's husband's cancer. I
don't know at all what your religious or philosophical beliefs
are, but want to let you know about ''The Tibetan Book of
Living and Dying'' by Sogyal Rinpoche. Many people have
found it very helpful to read in whole or in part at times like
this. Feel free to contact me if you have questions about it
as I am a student of this teacher. Kind wishes,
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