Category Archives: Supporting a Friend who has Cancer


No two cancers are alike.

I recently read an article about John McCain and Jimmy Carter.[1]  Apparently, a lot of people wonder why their cancers could have had such different outcomes. The thinking behind this is something most cancer patients encounter throughout their journey. People often don’t realize that no two cancers are alike. Today I’ll share some of the reasons for this, and what it means for cancer patients and their loved ones.

Where cancer originates is what kind of cancer the patient has.

One of the reasons no two cancers are alike is because they originate in different areas of the body. For example, Jimmy Carter was diagnosed with melanoma. This is a dangerous form of skin cancer. John McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma. A glioblastoma is a dangerous form of cancer in the brain. Jimmy Carter’s melanoma at one point metastasized (or moved) to his brain, but it was still melanoma.

My husband Dan was diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer. By the time they found it, it was in his lymphatic system. There was actually very little of it in his lungs because it metastasized so quickly. It was too late to cut it out. Even though it was in his lymph nodes when they found it, they found lung cancer cells there. At one point, like Jimmy Carter’s melanoma, it metastasized to his brain, but it was still the lung cancer cells that were in that brain tumor.

Why does this matter?

It’s important to realize that no two cancers are alike because they are treated differently. Some forms of cancer have more treatment options.  Some of these options have been better researched because there are more research dollars being directed at certain cancers than others. Melanoma, the cancer that metastasized to Carter’s brain, was treatable with a new immunotherapy. Glioblastoma, the form of cancer McCain suffered from, doesn’t respond to immunotherapy, and is extremely difficult to treat, especially when advanced.

Some cancers are curable, even at stage IV.

Different cancers have different staging systems.  Even when a system sounds the same (for example, “stage I, II, III, or IV”) the stages don’t necessarily mean the same thing. Lymphoma is a cancer that can be cured, even at stage IV.

“Stage III-IV lymphomas are common, still very treatable, and often curable, depending on the NHL subtype. Stage III and stage IV are now considered a single category because they have the same treatment and prognosis.” [2]

When someone has seen or experienced remission and even a cure of one of these “curable” cancers, it can be difficult to understand the devastation someone feels when they are told their cancer is “incurable.”

No two cancers are alike because of mutations

For a long time, lung cancer patients were relegated to “ugly step-stepsister” status; due to the impression most people have that lung cancer patients deserve to get cancer because cancer is a smoker’s disease, caused by bad behavior.

First, let me say that no one deserves cancer. Having seen this brutal disease up close, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, nor turn away and cluck my tongue if someone got it due to an “unhealthy lifestyle.”

The medical community is learning that more people get lung cancer who have never smoked (or haven’t in years) than they realized.

We were very fortunate to learn that Dan had an EGFR mutation. This is a mutation which set off a firestorm of research in the lung cancer world. With the possibilities that mutations present, they see hope for fighting this disease. So, more research dollars are being directed toward the least researched cancer and more treatment options are unfolding for lung cancer patients.

Thanks to this research, and new drugs, Dan has lived for 6 years with stage IV lung cancer. In 2012, he was given 6 months to live.

Asking for Prayer

No two cancers are alike because no two patients are alike

There are so many variations between patients. One particular treatment can work great for one patient and terrible in another. Some patients tolerate a treatment while others become ill to the point of death. Younger patients tend to do better than older patients on cancer treatment. Patients who have other underlying illnesses have a harder time than patients who start out healthier.

Support systems matter

No two cancers are alike because different patients have different levels of support. A strong support system can have a profound impact on both patients and caregivers.[3]  They are more likely to be compliant with treatment and understand their doctor’s recommendations. A good support system also helps combat depression that so commonly occurs in cancer patients.

In conclusion…

It’s natural to wonder why one person can live with cancer for a long time while another succumbs to their illness. Hopefully, this post has shed some light on the variables that impact the outcome of a patient’s disease. It’s important to be aware that a person’s experience with their cancer is as individual as they are.

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSONThe Erickson Family

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

 

My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Footnotes:

[1] Sisson, Paul. “Why Did Carter and McCain Have Such Different Brain Tumor Results?” Sandiegouniontribune.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, 28 Aug. 2018, www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/health/sd-no-cancer-mccain-20180824-story.html.

[2] “Lymphoma – Non-Hodgkin – Stages.” Cancer.Net, American Society of Clinical Oncology, 2 July 2018, www.cancer.net/cancer-types/lymphoma-non-hodgkin/stages.

[3] “Statistics Show the Importance of Psychosocial Support for Those Impacted by Cancer.” Imerman Angels, Imerman Angels, imermanangels.org/psychosocial/.


Robin : A Game about fatigue

How can a video game improve our understanding of what it is like to live with debilitating fatigue? I recently had the opportunity to find out. My daughter, Sam, recommended that I check out a game called Robin. Robin is free on the Steam platform. One of the things I love about video games on the Steam platform is that they are often more than just a game. They make a statement, and can even teach players what it’s like to live in circumstances they have never experienced before. In the case of Robin, players learn what it’s like to live with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Last week, I shared how cancer-related fatigue affects patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer, or who have had treatment in the past. Some cancers, themselves cause fatigue due to the burden they place on the patient’s physiological systems. This week I am going to share a game which allows players to get a taste of how that fatigue affects patients. While the game focuses on what it’s like to live with chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer patients (and all patients with chronic illness that contribute to debilitating fatigue) can relate to the experience the game, Robin, illustrates.

Robin’s sales page describes the game like this:

“Robin is a free short slice of life vignette that was made to give some visibility to an invisible illness – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (or myalgic encephalopathy). Live out three days in the life of Robin, a CFS sufferer, and try to manage your time as best you can. What you decide to do in these days is up to you, but know that there is never such a thing as a perfect ending. Built around the concept of spoon theory, Robin is a quick, relatable insight into the struggles of living with CFS/ME.”

I could completely understand Robin’s life. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia in 2009. Three years later, my husband was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. Every day we have to make the kinds of choices Robin makes in this game. We have the same internal dialogue when we go to bed each night.

Two things really resonated with me

The pile of laundry on the floor. It never seems to disappear. Isn’t that the way it is with laundry? If it’s not dirty laundry, it’s a pile of clean laundry that’s waiting to be folded and put away.

Deciding whether or not to go to the movies. Fun things are just as tiring as not-fun things. Yet it’s important not to neglect your relationships.

Robin : The Game

It’s often difficult for people to understand energy management, yet many of the people you encounter each day decide how to allocate their time and energy and always end up coming up short at the end of the day.

When you are living with cancer

Depending on where you are at in your disease process, and your treatment, energy management could be as stringent as only doing one thing each day (or even none). There is often a feeling of embarrassment in this, especially when you see so many active people filling each day to the brim with work and play. They seem so efficient, so productive. And, you’re happy for them, but you might also feel a little jealous and a little ashamed.

In only a few minutes, Robin puts that feeling into words and moving pictures. It’s totally free to download Steam, as well as the game, Robin. I highly recommend playing it and sharing it, to raise awareness of chronic fatigue syndrome and energy management issues that affect a host of diseases, including cancer.

Have you ever played a game which helped you to become more empathetic toward others? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

The Erickson Family

 

 


Ways to Offer Help when a Friend has Cancer

Have you ever gone to the store, or a restaurant and struggled to decide between all of the great options in front of you? It’s a common problem known as “choice overload.” This term was first introduced in the book, Future Shock by Alvin Toffler in 1970. With all of these great options, choosing becomes overwhelming. It takes longer to make a decision and often the decider gives up, altogether. This is really simplifying Toffler’s theory but it’s one of the reasons why many cancer patients and caregivers decline offers of help from friends and family members. Today, I will share how to overcome choice overload and find ways to offer help when a friend has cancer using multiple choice care coordination.

Where the burden of support lies

Usually, when someone is in need of help, we expect them to ask. It seems simple enough. People do it every day. Unfortunately, something as overwhelming as cancer can completely shut down a person’s normal ability to strategize and plan how to cope with the situation. All of their attention is focused on the medical aspect of cancer. The diagnosis process is intense. Often the patient is asked to make many appointments for test after test. They have to learn all about a disease that they likely know little about, and then make decisions about which course of treatment to pursue. At the same time, life goes on with its obligations of work, parenting, and other activities.

While it would make sense to ask for help, it feels a bit like trying to get the carnival ride operator to stop the Tilt-a-Whirl so they can get off. Instead, most patients and caregivers hope that things will soon settle down so that they can regain their balance.

As a Supportive Friend or Family Member:

When you hear that someone you care about is facing cancer or some other life-altering illness, you want to somehow help. The question is, how? What are some ways to offer help when a friend has cancer?

  • You also experience a bit of choice overload. There must be so many things that your friend needs. how can you fill the void? You wish you could just make it better, but you can’t. You might wonder how anything you think of to do, could make any difference at all.
  • It’s common to assume they must already have a lot of help. There is probably some organized system in place complete with a meal rotation, prayer chain and other ways to offer help when a friend has cancer. It’s easy to feel like you would just be one more person underfoot. Maybe they already have enough meals or rides.
  • Then, there’s the question of offering the help. You want to let them know you care and that you’d like to help, but, how? What if you say something “wrong?”
  • There is also a bit of mystery surrounding the home life of someone so ill. It’s easy to picture their home as a somber place of silence. What if you call and the ring of the phone wakes your friend from a much-needed nap? We’d sure hate to bother the caregiver who, as I wrote about in the last post, may have collapsed with exhaustion. So, we put off calling.

When you offer to help

Despite all of these mental obstacles to the ways to offer help when a friend has cancer, you run into your friend at church or in the supermarket. You don’t say it because you are kind, but it’s obvious that they are frazzled by all the responsibilities of life and caring for their spouse. This is your chance to let them know you would like to help. But, how? Maybe you’ve heard that bringing a meal is helpful, but you don’t cook. You try to think of something else they might need help with, but never having had cancer, you just don’t know. So, you resort to asking, “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Nearly always, your friend will shake their head and say, “No. I can’t think of anything right now, but thank you.” Or they will say what I often do. “Please keep us in your prayers.”

Whew! That was easy. You feel like you dodged a bullet. They know you care. Just to seal the deal you say, “Please let me know if you need anything.” You mean it with all your heart. But, your friend doesn’t call. Maybe they are doing okay. After all, if the needed anything, they would have called. Right?

Wrong

Patients and caregivers are feeling overwhelmed, Caregivers, in particular, feel like it’s their job to care for their loved one. So, they try to do it all. Then, they become exhausted. Eventually, they realize they might not be able to do this alone. After all, this could be a long road and they’re wearing out fast. Who can they ask for help?

Then you see you at church or in the supermarket. You heard from another friend that their spouse is ill and you are very sympathetic. You want to help and ask if there is anything you can do. They search their overwhelmed brain, knowing that there must be something, but at the moment, they can’t think of anything. How can that be, they wonder. You say, “Please let me know if you need anything.” That’s so nice of you.

They thank you and go home.

They think, again about how nice it was that you offered to help. What could they ask of you?  They hate to ask for a meal (especially caregivers who are wives). After all, you work a full-time job and have responsibilities of your own. And while a caregiver’s to-do list is a mile long, they couldn’t ask you to help them take their car in for maintenance, or clean the garage as winter is setting in. Surely, you weren’t offering to help with that kind of thing (even though those responsibilities are weighing on them).

Some Problems

I come from Minnesota where we have the phrase “Minnesota Nice.” Sometimes we can nice ourselves out of the very thing we need.  As a caregiver who doesn’t want to be a bother to others, we hesitate to ask for help, even when it’s offered.

Most people will approach the patient, not the caregiver when they think of ways to offer help when a friend has cancer. Sometimes a caregiver would gladly accept the offer but the patient declines it, thinking it’s not really necessary. Often patients don’t realize everything a caregiver is juggling. To minimize this miscommunication, if you really want to help in some way, check with both the patient and the caregiver. This is important, even if you don’t know the caregiver as well (or at all) as the patient. This will really speak to the sincerity of your offer and will surely touch the patient and caregiver’s hearts.

Ways to offer help when a friend has cancer

When you have a loved one who you would like to help, don’t get derailed trying to do just what they need. Yes, you heard that right! The truth is, half the time, they are too overwhelmed to know what they need. Instead, follow these three steps and you will be able to help:

  1. Think about the things you are good at.
  2. Come up with three different things you can do for your friend to lighten their load or brighten their day.
  3. Then say, “I’ve been thinking about you so much, lately. I would really like to help. Here are 3 things I can offer.  Would any of them be helpful to you?”

Don’t get hung up on the number. Maybe you only have one thing. That’s okay. Three is the maximum because anything more will turn an easy decision into a hard one. The beauty in this is that you can do something you are good at, and it may be just what they need. I call this multiple choice help.

Ways to Offer Help when a Friend has Cancer

 

Out of the Box ways to offer help when a friend has cancer

We have a friend who when we were moving, said, “I would really like to help you but I don’t cook. I do organize well, though. I know you are moving. Could you use my help packing? I could even bring boxes.” She was an angel from heaven! Afterall, who offers to help someone move? Only an angel.

Never feel like the thing you offer is less than what someone else may do to help. You are lifting a burden in your own special way. By offering specific help, you are also giving that person explicit permission to take you up on it. They will know you aren’t just trying to be polite.

Utilize Social Media for Care Coordination

While you likely won’t need to worry about the specific coordination of help (unless that is one of the ways to offer help when a friend has cancer you want to follow through on). But it is a good idea to find out which of these systems if any, that your friend is using.

We are more connected than ever by the internet. There are wonderful tools that you can use to facilitate getting help. My favorite is Caring Bridge. Many people know that it gives you the ability to update family and friends on your condition by writing a journal entry. It also has a planner. You can put anything you need help with on the planner and your friends sign up to help with any task that works for them.  I particularly like that you aren’t limited to meal requests.

If your primary need is a regular meal, Take Them a Meal is the perfect meal coordination site.

Another care coordination site is Lotsa Helping Hands. I personally didn’t find it as easy to use as Caring Bridge, because we had already built up a community on our Caring Bridge site. But if you are new to this, Lotsa Helping Hands is worth checking out.

While there are sites specializing in care coordination, some people choose to use Facebook, either just posting to their personal page, or by creating a specific page or Facebook group for the patient. Using Facebook, they can update friends and family as well as ask for help when the need arises.

And of course, there is always the good old-fashioned phone tree. This requires someone to coordinate the calendar and mobilize people, but it gets the job done. It’s also perfect for prayer requests.

A few more ways to offer help when a friend has cancer

  • Don’t feel unappreciated if they don’t send you a “Thank You” card. While that would normally be Facing Cancer as a Friendproper etiquette, understand that they are swamped, and greatly appreciate your generosity and thoughtfulness.
  • Try to bring meals in containers that you don’t need to have returned. Let them know that they can keep them or throw them if they are disposable. That way, they need not worry about whether they’re expected to get them back to you. If you do need a crockpot or other container returned, schedule a time when you can come to pick it up. Also, put your name on it.  A few times, I’ve found Rubbermaid dishes in my closet and wondered where they came from. So, the name helps.

It is a blessing to be helped, and a greater on to help a friend in need. Check out the many ways to offer help when a friend has cancer and more ideas, in my book, Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer.

What Are YOUR Thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker


Asking for Prayer

Dan has had significant shortness of breath in the past month or two, so we were very concerned about the results of a scan he had last Monday, 3/12/18. We were asking for prayer that we would have wisdom as we proceeded to deal with whatever the doctor had to say. I feel that God has answered and will continue to answer that prayer. Last Friday, 3/16/18, we had a very sobering conversation with Dan’s oncologist. The results of his scan were a mixed bag. We saw some definite improvements in the scan, enough to continue his current treatment.

There was also some progression.

She spoke very frankly about what needs to happen next. She’s referring him to the Mayo for a second opinion because once Dan is done with this treatment; she has nothing more to offer him. The hope is that Mayo might have a trial that isn’t being publicized (We regularly look for trials on a national trial finding website and haven’t found any that fit Dan).

The Mayo also has oncologists that specialize exclusively in lung cancer. She feels like having another set of eyes and experience could be helpful in finding an approach. Perhaps a traditional single agent that Dan hasn’t tried could buy some time. We are asking for prayer that there would be something for him at Mayo that would be helpful, There are concerns about symptoms he’s experiencing (vision changes, back pain from a spinal metastasis and terrible pain under his armpit which she suspects is from one of the spinal metastasis pressing on a nerve).He needs to have 2 MRIs done next Tuesday on his brain and his thoracic region to investigate his symptoms. If they find out what is causing the armpit pain and vision changes, they can treat it with radiation.

She referred him to palliative/hospice care for a consult.

He will see them on Thursday when he has his next chemo. She wants us to review his health care directive and bring it with that day. She is concerned about the possibility of a blood clot preventing him from breathing properly. Cancer cells throw off clotting agents. So, she wants him to consider what we want emergency services to do at that time. I won’t go into any more of the details, but suffice it to say, it was a difficult conversation. We’ve approached this point before, but it isn’t any easier the second time around. We are asking for prayer that the palliative care consult will benefit his quality of life.

How Are We Doing?

Some people have asked how he is doing. It’s difficult to say. How are the kids doing? That’s also hard for me to know. I’m really not sure of how am I doing as a caregiver, a wife, and mom. So, how can I know how they are doing? It’s something we aren’t really talking about right now, which may seem strange, but sometimes it’s good to sort out your feelings before you try to talk about it. Still, I really appreciate friends and family asking. I wish I had a better answer. I’m sure at some point I will be better able to express it in words.

I can tell you that I’ve been having a hard time sleeping. When I do sleep, it’s fitfully, with nightmares. It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning because I’m experiencing some symptoms of depression. I’ve been surprised at how angry I’ve felt, recently. I am SO angry. I can’t even put my finger on what I’m angry about. Sure, “cancer” would be the obvious answer, but it feels more generalized. I try to keep it bottled up, but that doesn’t really deal with the issue. I anticipate I will transition to some other stage of grief at some point. So, I am asking for prayer for these issues to be resolved.

Where to Go from Here

In the past, our family has always taken a vacation. We can’t do that this year. Instead, we are doing something we’ve talked about for a long time—a staycation. We’re looking for fun, low-cost things to enjoy doing as a family, and have quite a list going. We’re asking for prayer that we can have a wonderful time making memories as a family.

I’ve also made some decisions about how I will personally proceed from here. I’ve decided that I will concentrate on caring for my husband and kids. So, I’ve bowed out of a few things that I normally do. They will be there in the future. I will still facilitate monthly Jack’s Caregiver Coalition caregiver klatches. I have to keep my sanity, somehow.  I’ve been praying about this and I’m at peace with it. I will of, course, still write. Once I get my new orthotics, I will perhaps take a walk each morning if my feet hold up.

Preparing

On a more practical level, I may have a cleaning party if we need to call in hospice. We will need to rearrange some things to make room in our smallish townhome. Dan has talked about putting together a honey-do list and having his own manly version of this. It seems overwhelming to think about. Any caregiver will tell you that a lot of stuff gets glossed over on the home front.

We are also asking for prayer for:

  • cancer to die and Dan to live
  • continued wisdom as we make decisions
  • all of our kids to be at peace during this time
  • Summer to be able to keep up with work and school while coping with this emotional blow
  • nothing to slip through the cracks

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

Originally posted 2018-03-19 00:48:57.


Praying for someone who has cancer

This week we got news that my husband’s recent scan was not good at all. We will eventually be going down to the Mayo clinic to see what they recommend in the way of experimental treatment. In the meantime, he is doing relatively well, despite how bad is insides look. People often ask what they can do. I say, “Just pray.” I don’t mean that to sound like it’s some last resort. It’s really truly uplifting to know that people are praying for us. If you are a Christian, praying for someone who has cancer is the best thing you can do. But how? With a problem so big, it can be hard to find the words.

Here’s a list of ways you can be praying for someone who has cancer

It isn’t long, but it is powerful. I would recommend really personalizing this in your prayer time. Think about what, specifically, your friend is facing, and pray for that. This list is more of a mind jogger.

You may want to pray for one of these areas each day, or if something, in particular, is causing the most trouble for your friend, focus on that for a few days. Our family sometimes divides these areas between us at our evening prayer time. Each of us is interceding for a different part of our friend’s life.

Use these ideas in any way that works best for you. And listen for God to respond in your heart. Often, He will call you to be the answer to the prayer you pray!

Things to keep in mind when praying for someone who has cancer:

  • Wisdom: For decisions that the patient, their family, and their caregivers, both professional (medical) and non-professional (family and friends)must make.
  • Financial Needs: For provision to meet bill payments, and the daily needs of the patient and his/her family
  • Physical Needs: Including comfort and healing. Pray specifically for any physical problems the patient is facing
  • Emotional Needs: For the peace of God to transcend the fear that cancer can cause for the patient and his/her loved ones
  • Spiritual Needs: For God’s presence to be felt, undeniably, in the midst of this difficult time. To be at peace with God
  • Practical needs: That friends and family would come alongside the patient and his/her immediate family to lift their burdens. This can be done through, meals, acts of service gifts, and encouragement. Also, pray about how God can use you to participate in this.

Facing CancerMore ways to help a friend with cancer

If you feel up to helping with some of these needs, but aren’t sure how to go about it, read Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, available on Amazon.com. It’s full of ideas to help you use your gifts and skills to help others in a way you’re comfortable.

 

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace. My books are available at Amazon.com:

The Memory Maker’s Journal 

Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer

Facing Cancer as a Parent: Helping Your Children Cope with Your Cancer

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

 

 

 

 


Helping Someone in Crisis

You likely know someone whose world has been turned upside down by a life-altering diagnosis such as cancer.  If you don’t, unfortunately, you will. You want to be able to help someone in crisis, but, how?. When my husband was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2012, we experienced the good the bad and the ugly when it came to the way people gave us support. Some people with good intentions ultimately caused us a lot of pain. We also had friends and family that who did things that made an amazing difference.

How do you help someone in crisis?

Since you’re reading this, I am sure that you want to be a blessing to the people in your life who are going through the fire of cancer or some other life-altering diagnosis. You have unique strengths and gifts that can benefit them at the point of their greatest need. I want to help you know how to use these strengths and gifts to their maximum potential.

Helping someone in crisis doesn’t have to feel like a burden. In fact, it should bless you as much as your friend. Here are some ideas for making the experience of supporting a friend a good one for you, your friend, and their family.

Prepare Yourself, Emotionally

It can be difficult to see someone in crisis, especially when it’s someone you care about. Reacting in the moment can result in saying something unintentionally insensitive, Avoid this by processing your own feelings beforehand. It can be difficult to hear that a friend is facing cancer or some other crisis. Take time to acknowledge and cope with your own emotions about their diagnosis before you see him or her. This way, you can keep the focus on your friend.

This isn’t an excuse to avoid someone in crisis. All too often, people steer clear of friends who have a life-threatening illness like cancer or a life-changing crisis like divorce or financial ruin. It is so painful to go through a crisis and discover half of your friends have disappeared. Often people who avoid friends in crisis don’t even realize that’s what they are doing. They may think they are waiting for a better time to see their friend. Unfortunately, lots of people do this. The result for someone in crisis is a feeling of abandonment.

You might think your friend has a lot of people around to support him/her and that you would only be in the way. I’ve talked to many patients and caregivers who found that their circle of friends suddenly shrank with their diagnosis, often because people made this assumption. So, how do you prepare?

Learn about the diagnosis

Your friend may not want to talk about the details. It can be physically and emotionally tiring to repeat the same information to different people. If possible, ask the person’s spouse or a mutual friend may be able to give you the basics. This way you will have the correct information. If there’s information that is unknown or not shared, don’t push for more. You aren’t getting a medical degree, just a general idea of what your friend is dealing with.

Be prepared for changes in your friend’s appearance

Weight changes, hair loss, fatigue, symptoms such as a cough or shortness of breath are common side effects of cancer and many treatments. The opposite can also be true. Newer treatments have fewer appearance altering side effects. But, this doesn’t diminish the seriousness of what the patient is going through. Often, a person’s appearance doesn’t match up with what’s happening inside of their body and how they are feeling. So, instead of commenting on any physical changes, start your visit by saying “It’s good to see you.”

Follow the Golden Rule

It can really help when deciding how to treat a friend who has cancer, or the primary caregiver for a cancer patient. How would you want to be treated if you were in their shoes? Better yet, how does your friend want to be treated? Not everyone wants the same thing. Some people need time to process on their own. Others want to surrounded by supportive friends. How does your friend typically react to difficult trials? Do they withdraw? Do they want to talk? If you aren’t sure of what they want, just ask. Ask even if you think you know what they want. They might surprise you.

Facing Cancer
Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com.

Ideas for helping someone in crisis

These ideas will work for people affected by any life-altering diagnosis. These ideas came out of our family’s experience, and the experiences of others fighting similar battles. I share these ideas and more in my book. Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com. Although each person with cancer is different, we have heard a harmonizing chorus of feelings expressed by people with a life-altering diagnosis.

Check-in with a phone call

Before visiting, giving advice, and asking questions, ask if it is welcome. Make it clear that saying no is perfectly fine.

When possible, let your friend know when you will be calling. Write it on your calendar so you don’t forget. Also, let him/her know that it’s okay not to answer the phone.

Don’t be afraid to make plans for the future. This gives your friend something to look forward to. When making plans, be flexible in case something comes up or your friend needs to cancel or reschedule.

Be real

Don’t let your friend’s illness get in the way of your friendship. Continue to ask them about their interests, hobbies, life events and other topics not related to cancer. People going through treatment sometimes need a break from talking about the disease. Be cheerful when you naturally would be, and humorous and fun when appropriate. A light conversation or funny story can make a friend’s day. This doesn’t mean ignoring the elephant in the room. Allow for sadness. Don’t ignore uncomfortable topics or feelings. Your friend may need to talk to someone he/she trusts.

Offer specific help

Often, when talking to someone in crisis, you ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” 9 times out of 10 they will say no. This is because they’re so overwhelmed that they have no idea what they need. It’s better to instead anticipate his/her needs and offering to help with specific tasks, such as taking care of children, pets, or preparing a meal. If your friend declines an offer of help, don’t take it personally. It can be hard for many people to learn to accept help. Let them know you’re “on call” for emergencies, and offer again in the future. Keep your promises. If you commit to helping, it’s important that you follow through. They are counting on you.

Read his or her blog, web page, or group emails

It is often difficult for someone in crisis to be so open about such personal information, especially in such a public forum such as the internet. Yet, this is how someone in crisis can share their experience with friends and family. By following their story, you are showing you care about your friend. Stay current with these updates to avoid blunders when you talk to them. Also, this means that your friend won’t have to repeat experiences or information multiple times. These updates can also be a great way to start a conversation.

What are YOUR thoughts?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker


Giving gifts to brighten a patient's day.

Confession: I’m a Terrible Gift Giver. I don’t know why. I just am. Each Christmas my sisters-in-law and I all exchange gifts. They are little gift bags of things that make life fun: notebooks, lotions, great pens, etc. I am always in awe of the ladies’ creativity and thoughtfulness.

In comparison, my ideas are unoriginal, and my gift bags aren’t nearly as cute. Still, they appreciate my effort. Gifts are another way to show someone you care about them.

Money

Money can be a sensitive subject, but it is an important part of life. Many times, we’ve had people bless us with cash, checks, and gift cards just when we needed it most.

Because of being self-employed Realtors, we don’t get sick pay. So, when Dan was diagnosed with cancer, one of the things that began to suffer was our finances. With all of Dan’s appointments, and him becoming sick from treatment, many potential clients were unsure of whether we’d be able to give them the attention they needed in their home buying/selling process. Often they were tempted to choose someone else to represent them and we were left with no income.

Even patients with jobs that offer sick pay, find that it runs out all too quickly.

The patient’s spouse needs to be there for the patient during treatment and recovery, and not only for support. When someone is facing an illness that can be terminal, it’s important for the family to have as much time together as possible.

This is especially a concern when there are children at home. Emotional struggles and fear can quickly creep in. Having both parents there to manage the children’s insecurities and the by-products of the situation make a big difference. You can learn more about parenting with cancer in my upcoming book, Facing Cancer as a Parent.

The Gift of Giving

Some people are more comfortable giving gifts, than “doing something.” That’s wonderful because gifts can make as much of a difference as anything. They can be a huge blessing and brighten someone’s day.

Gifts can be practical, fun, interesting, serious, or light, depending on what your friend needs the most.

When giving gifts, it’s helpful to keep in mind the interests and hobbies of your friend. They may appreciate something really silly or unusual, or something that is deeply meaningful.

If the patient is someone you don’t know as well, like a neighbor or work colleague, you may want to stick with something more traditional.

Gifts We’ve Received

We’ve received some gifts that have lightened our load during this journey. Gift cards to order pizza enabled us to make our daughter’s 11th birthday more special, even though we were financially strapped.

One day a dear couple stopped by with a pair of slippers, a robe, comfy pajama bottoms, and several meals. We were overwhelmed by their love for us.

Another couple came over during the holidays with a basket full of fruit, and a gift card for groceries which we used in order to have a wonderful Christmas meal with all of our kids.

We’ve been given timely financial gifts that have dramatically improved our lives.

I could go on, but instead, I’ll give you a list of some ideas you can use to bless the people in your life who are struggling.

Some Suggestions:

Facing Cancer has great ideas for a gift to give cancer patients.
Facing Cancer as a Friend is available on Amazon.com in Paperback and Kindle formats.

Digital Gifts:

  • CDs or gift cards for downloadable music or audiobooks
  • DVDs of movies, TV shows, or documentaries
  • A video message from family and friends
  • Pictures of friends and family
  • An e-reader and a gift card to add some books to it.

Traditional Comfort Gifts:

  • A good book, or a magazine or newspaper subscription.
  • Crossword or Sudoku puzzles
  • Note cards or a journal
  • Gift a soft, comfortable hat or scarf if your friend will lose his/her hair with treatment. This helps men and women feel more comfortable in appearance, and physically. You lose a lot of heat through your head in the winter if you don’t have hair. Bald heads burn easily in the summer sun without protection.
  • Gift a super comfy blanket, socks, or robe, for couch lounging or trips to chemo.
  • Slippers, pajamas or robe
  • Give a plant or send a flower delivery. However, make sure the person isn’t on neutropenic precautions first; fresh flowers can be an infection risk for cancer patients with weakened immune systems. Also, make sure they don’t have any sensitivities. Lilies, in particular, can have strong scents that bother some people.

Gift Cards:

  • Gift certificates for massage, spa services, restaurants or museum/art gallery passes can all help lift someone’s spirits and make life a little more “normal.”
  • Grocery stores gift cards can be extremly helpful.
  • Buy gas cards to help with the extra driving to appointments. I remember one week when we spent about 10 hours driving to and from appointments. Friends gave us gas cards which made a huge difference!

Splurge and Pamper:

  • Accessories (earrings, bracelets, scarves, ties, hats), makeup, or beauty items
  • Portable hobby supply kits (scrapbooking, drawing, and needlepoint) or puzzles can be relaxing gifts.

Paid Services:

  • Treat him or her to a spa or beauty treatment: manicure/pedicure, facial, makeup application, etc. It may be the first time they’ve felt pampered in a while.
  • Housecleaning- When someone has cancer, the entire household goes into “survival mode,” and cleaning often falls by the wayside. But that doesn’t mean that the newly accumulated dust and clutter go unnoticed.

Often, patients and caregivers are embarrassed at the condition their home is in because they lack the time and energy to clean. They scurry around trying to get things in order when they hear that someone is stopping by. This leaves them exhausted, later.

You could offer to help clean, (use your best judgment as to how this will be received). Often shame and embarrassment will keep people from accepting.

Paying for a visit from a cleaning service on chemo day would be a huge blessing. They will return home to a spiffed up house and have one less thing to worry about.

Note* Make sure that they are okay with this since some people are very private and will not be as appreciative of this.

  • Send a mobile masseuse for a gift massage. Use caution if the patient has metastatic cancer that has spread to their lymphatic system. The safest thing to do is to have them check with their doctor. This is also a great gift for stressed-out caregivers.

If you want to give “outside of the box”:

  • Check to see if your employer would allow you to donate money or vacation time to cover paid-time-off hours for the patient or caregiver you work with.
  • Look into donating air miles so that they can take a trip, or family from far away can visit.

A Bonus Idea for the Adventurous: A Chemo Day Bag!

Spending time in the “chemo chair” is no fun. The day often includes several different appointments and can become long and drawn out. One way to bless someone who’s receiving chemotherapy is to give them something to make the day easier and the time to go by faster.

Any bag will do. If you are going to go all out, a diaper bag has plenty of room, and all of the pockets are great for organizing the goodies you can fill it with. Don’t feel like you need to use all of these ideas. Even a small gift bag with one or two of the items will let the patient know you care and want to make their chemo day easier. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • You could include things like a travel mug with herbal tea or cocoa packets.
  • Lotion and Chapstick help with the drying effect of chemo.
  • Mints, lemon drops or “Preggo-pops” (ginger candy), all help with nausea associated with chemotherapy.
  • A favorite novel, puzzle book or devotional can help pass the hours in the chair. Add a journal and pen for the patient to record their thoughts at such an emotional time.
  • Hand sanitizer and baby wipes are wonderful for cleaning up after a snack (which you could also include).
  • If you really feel like going all out, you could add a quilt or a fleece blanket.
  • A heating pad is a great addition for extra comfort and warmth during those long chemo sessions.
  • Consider putting together a small bag for the caregiver. Often they sit in a folding chair during the hours the patient is receiving chemo.

Gift a Chemo Day Bag

Our Story

Dan developed “brain mets,” or metastasis to the brain, two years after Dan his initial diagnosis of stage IV lung cancer. He went to the University of Minnesota for a procedure called, “Gamma Knife.” It used concentrated rays of radiation to strategically eliminate the tumor in his brain while sparing the rest of the brain. It was going to be a long day, so my mother-in-law came along to keep me company. My brother-in-law gave us a ride so that we wouldn’t need to worry about driving and parking. My sister-in-law sent little gift bags with snacks and reading material for our wait. Each of these loved ones made a frightening day much easier.

Note: This post and its suggestions have been excerpted from the book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer.

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?

I’d love to hear in the comment section, below. I appreciate my readers as well as the writing community. To show that appreciation, I use Comment Luv. Just leave a comment below and your latest post will get a link next to it. Thank you!

ABOUT HEATHER ERICKSON

In 2012 doctors diagnosed my husband, Dan, with stage IV lung cancer. Since then, our family has been learning what it means to face cancer. I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest, in spite of their illness. My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.

My book Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone Who Has Cancer, is available on Amazon.com

I also blog at Heather Erickson Author/Writer/Speaker

A to Z Challenge Survivor

Newsletter

Find out when I post a new blog.

Archives

Categories

Grab a copy of Facing Cancer as a Friend!

Get the Memory Maker’s Journal

%d bloggers like this: