Cancer can be a pretty lonely journey. Before I went through treatment in 2021, I knew little about what the ins and outs of chemo, radiation, and surgery entail. And I knew absolutely nothing about the lifelong implications of living with a cancer diagnosis. About how even when it’s all over, it’s not really over because there are still pills and shots and Doctor follow-ups and scans and a million opinions on how to avoid reoccurrence. As a person who believes in God, the way I’ve most experienced God’s love through my journey has been through other people. Goodness, my eyes are full of tears of gratitude as I write this.
I do not take for granted all the help I received during my treatment. In the time of my life when I felt the most burdened, the worst physically, emotionally and mentally, having people offer care and help lift me up time and time again.
So, if you know someone who is going through treatment, here are some ways that are sure to lift their spirits and help them feel less alone.
During my chemo treatments specifically, a different friend came with me each time. This was such a precious gift as the treatments are long. Even though I often fell asleep from the medicines, the presence of my friends, mom, sister, or husband was deeply comforting to me. A group of my college besties also came from out of town for a weekend visit which put wind in my sails.
1). Meals have been the number one most helpful thing for me as a mom of little people. When we lived in Baton Rouge our church friends arranged several meal trains for us. Friends from out of town have sent Doordash, Grubhub and Ubereats gift cards. A woman I literally met on Instagram brought our family dinner after my most recent surgery (she was legit btw). Not having to worry about feeding my family has been a tremendous gift when I was feeling bad or in recovery. I was blown away when friends from high school or college that I hadn’t spoken to in over a decade would send gift cards for meals.
2). Caring for Kiddos. I’m lucky to have the best parents and in-laws on the planet. They’ve come from out of state over and over to care for our kids. My sister came in twice during my treatment to help me and my best friends regularly have picked up the slack for me. If you’re able, offering to take kiddos to the park or have them over to the house during treatments or Doctor appointments is a tremendous gift.
3). Offer don’t ask. “Do you need help with anything?” Is kind, but it’s more helpful to say, “Can I come fold your laundry?”, “Can I come vacuum?”, “I’m dropping off a meal at 6pm, does that sound good?” These straightforward offers were always helpful for me since my brain felt like mush much of the time.
4). Financial help. Thankfully, my treatment was completely covered by insurance. But when my dear friend offered to watch my baby during radiation, that was babysitter money saved. My sister rallied people to donate towards me getting a wig made with my own hair and my brother and sister-in-law paid for my medical marijuana pen. Such generous ways to offer practical help.
1.) It’s hard to go wrong here, I felt loved no matter what I received. Several out-of-town friends sent items for my kids and husband, which was extra kind and thoughtful. I received countless flower bouquets which always brightened my day (check with your friend because some Drs discourage fresh flowers during chemo). A few specific favorites that I received: a Barefoot dreams wrap, cozy socks (chemo is cold!), a Yeti water bottle or Stanley cup for staying hydrated, new pajamas! (Target True & Co are the best), small art prints, new journals, fun pens, and books.
One of my closest friends paid for me to get monthly massages at my house for the duration of chemo. This was beyond generous and was such a wonderful thing to look forward to. Even one massage would be a great gift!
2.) Cards in the mail:
Receiving cards in the mail constantly brightened my spirits. My fifth grade Sunday school teacher arranged a “card train” for me where people from the church I grew up in signed up to send me cards in the mail. This was so incredibly thoughtful. I received a couple of hand-painted cards too which was really special.
3). Books: This is a bit specific to me since I love to read, but there are several books I recommend for women enduring breast cancer: Dear Friend: Letters of Encouragement, Humor, and Love for Women with Breast Cancer (not faith based) and Praying Through Cancer (for any type of cancer). A fun, upbeat novel is also a good way to go.
Remembering big dates, text check-ins, prayer, and making space:
It’s deeply meaningful when people text me asking how I am, saying they’re thinking of me, and praying for me before a treatment or surgery. This never gets old. Never underestimate a simple, “I’m here for you” text. I’ve often felt like I talk about my journey too much, so when friends say, “You can talk about this as much or as little as you want,” it brought me a lot of comfort.
A dear friend from college made bookmarks with a scripture and “pray for Jillian” on them. This was a really meaningful gesture that made me feel extra loved and supported.
Finally, three big ones:
Don’t offer unsolicited medical advice and don’t feel the need to give optimistic encouragement. Often I just needed a safe place to talk and cry without much input.
And lastly, check on your friend after treatment. Like I said in the beginning, unfortunately, even after she’s in the clear, cancer has a lasting impact both physically and emotionally. Reaching out and being a safe place to process is a tremendous gift.