Presented by Levine Cancer Institute
Nobody likes to talk about cancer. It’s sad, it’s scary and it’s the last thing you ever want to see a loved one go through.
The stark reality is that most of us all know at least one person affected by cancer.
What are you supposed to say? How can you actually help?
We decided to get answers to those questions from patients and cancer experts at Levine Cancer Institute.
They know cancer. They deal with it every day. And they really know how to support people who are battling it.
When you find out someone you care about has cancer, it’s hard to know how to respond. Laura Lapaglia-Swift, a patient at Levine Cancer Institute, got real with us about the do’s and don’ts.
Swift is 36 and was diagnosed this past December with breast cancer. Swift is actually familiar with cancer. She works at Levine Cancer Institute as a nurse navigator, which means she works full-time guiding cancer patients through treatment.
“I’ve worked in oncology for the past 10 years,” she says. “But even though I had the knowledge and experience, nothing prepares you to be on the other end.”
Despite her diagnosis, Swift has a positive outlook and we loved her candidness:
Don’t say “I’m sorry”
Saying sorry is most people’s gut reaction but Swift says to skip the “sorry’s” and go straight to, “I’m going to help you get through this.” Obviously cancer sucks. Everyone knows that. So just make sure they know you’ll be there for them.
Don’t ask “What can I do to help?”
Just do things and don’t ask. “99 percent of the time we’re going to say we don’t need anything because we feel like we need to be stronger than our friends and family,” says Swift. So just help out, no questions asked.
Don’t call it “a journey”
You frequently hear cancer referred to as “a journey” but that label doesn’t sit well with Swift. “To me a journey is something you choose and I didn’t choose this,” she explains.
Do meet them wherever they are
If your loved one is having a rough day, that’s ok. Be compassionate about where they are in their treatment and meet them there. There’s no need to always be positive. Sometimes a patient just wants someone to validate the way they feel.
Do remind them you are there for them
Whether it’s a phone call or sending them a funny meme, keep reminding them you are thinking about them. Let them know they aren’t on an island. It can go a long way.
Do acknowledge that you might not say the right thing
It’s ok to be honest. Tell them you aren’t sure what to say but you want to support them however they need it, whether it’s telling them a funny joke or giving them a shoulder to cry on.
When someone is undergoing cancer treatment, life can be hectic for them. Taking over small daily responsibilities can be a huge help. Create a network of friends and family and start a steady stream of home-cooked meals.
These are some of the best websites to help coordinate your efforts:
How it works: It’s an interactive, online calendar that allows friends and family to coordinate and schedule meals. Send invites via email or Facebook and customize meal preferences. Upgrade to Meal Train Plus and you can also help schedule rides and childcare.
How it works: Think of it like a meal registry. It’s an online calendar that you can share with others. It’s customizable with things like favorite foods and allergy needs. Friends and family can even opt to purchase a restaurant gift card or chef-prepared meal gift.
Take Them a Meal
How it works: It’s essentially an online sign-up sheet. It allows you to select the days of the week meals are needed and select any food allergies. They also offer an online store where you can opt to send a pre-made meal.
How it works: This is a very simple online sign-up sheet. You can customize the information at the top of the sign-up sheet to list any favorite foods, allergies or other instructions.
Cancer is hard on anyone but it can be especially hard on families with children. Here are some ways you can lending a hand to someone with little ones at home:
Help out with childcare
Treatment is exhausting. It can be tough to come home and take care of the kids afterwards. Offer to babysit, especially on treatment days and the days following. It can be as simple as taking them to the park for a few hours or just hanging out and helping them with their homework.
Offer to give rides
From school to soccer practice, families with kids have lots of places to be. Offer to give rides. Maybe you pick up the kids from school a couple times a week or carpool to soccer practice. Any little bit helps.
Coming up with meals day in and day out is hard for all families but especially for ones with a loved one battling cancer. Offer to cook a meal or, better yet, use one of the online resources above and start a meal-sharing calendar. Boom.
Do other household chores
We’re talking anything from doing laundry to mowing the lawn. It all has to get done and it’s nice for the family to have less little things to worry about.
Don’t stop being there
Cancer battles can be long and even once treatment ends, their new normal isn’t really normal. Don’t stop offering to help out. They will appreciate having you in their corner.
Gifts are a great way to show a loved one you are thinking about them. But what do you get someone with cancer?
Levine Cancer Institute patient and nurse navigator, Laura Lapaglia-Swift, helped us come up with a list of items that aren’t just thoughtful but actually super helpful for patients going through treatment.
HUX cleaning services
Where to buy: Online
Why it’s relevant: There’s nothing like coming home to a nice clean house, especially when you did none of the work. Take one less thing off their plate. They will be grateful.
An adult coloring book
Where to buy: Paper Skyscraper
Why it’s relevant: Patients often have to sit for hours during treatment and it gets boring. Items like adult coloring books, magazines and playing cards help pass the time. If you’re a true friend, you can even offer to sit with them during treatment.
Where to buy: Online
Why it’s relevant: Patients undergoing treatment are often too tired to deal with day-to-day chores like laundry. So gifting a service that comes to their house, picks up their laundry and does it for them is a HUGE win.
A gift card for gas
Where to buy: Local gas stations
Why it’s relevant: A gift card for gas might seem impersonal but Swift says that many patients have to drive 2-3 hours for treatment. If you know someone who’s got a hefty commute, this can be a big help.
A cozy blanket
Where to buy: Details Home Boutique
Why it’s relevant: Patients often get very cold when going through chemotherapy treatments. A nice blanket will keep them cozy and comfortable.
We asked Axios Charlotte readers about their cancer support experiences and the responses we got were awesome. Thanks for opening up and sharing your stories, y’all.
“My mother was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal lung, bone, and brain cancer when I was 14. The most important way I supported her was allowing her to voice her fears of death in a real and honest way without immediately stating “you’ll be okay.” While it is important to be optimistic, it is equally important to allow your loved ones to honestly express their fears.”
“Be honest. Tell them that you know it sucks but, that they should take it one day at a time. Be there for them for the usual wine nights and beach trips. Take them to a show, concert, out for coffee. Let them talk and don’t try to fix anything…honestly, you can’t but, listening and laughing, goes a long way.”
“I’m now 31, but lost my mother to peritoneal mesothelioma when I was 22. She was given a six month prognosis without treatment. We made the decision together to not treat her cancer at the time, and pursued hospice treatment right away. This helped preserve her quality of life. We ended up having another 13 months together.”
“As a cancer survivor, I really appreciated hearing from friends and people I knew who had gone through treatment too. It was the day-to-day advice for how to manage side effects from chemo and radiation from someone who has actually experienced it that mattered to me. It meant a lot to have friends that I could call or email when issues popped up.”
“Send a card. I know it sounds insignificant but, it’s so much better than a text sometimes.”
“I was 26 years old when my father was diagnosed with bladder cancer. He died in 2010 after undergoing chemo, radiation, and surgery. After his diagnosis, I decided that the best way to support my father was to relieve my mother of as many day-to-day tasks as possible so that she could focus 100 percent on my dad.”
“I was diagnosed when I was 25 with breast cancer. I was single and my family lived 4 hours away. My friends where my biggest support system in Charlotte. Offering to go to appointments with me was the biggest help. As soon as you are diagnosed it’s like a fire hose of information and a lot to understand. Having a second pair of ears with you takes some of the stress off of remembering every detail.”
“At the hospital, I would spend hours with my dad, whenever I was able. We’d watch movies, joke around with nurses. Everyone always tried to keep him in good spirits. During chemo, I would send him funny jokes or memes while he was getting treatment. Stuff to make him laugh.”
Beating cancer requires a ton of resources and support. Whether it’s volunteering your time sitting with patients going through chemo or donating money to a local foundation, here are some ways to join the fight.
Volunteer or participate in 24 Hours of Booty
When: July 28-29, 2017
Where: The Booty Loop in Myers Park
Why: It’s one of Charlotte’s biggest fundraisers and the money goes to support Levine Cancer Institute and Levine Children’s Hospital. The event will require tons of volunteers, from manning water stations to packet pick-up. Sign up to participate or volunteer here.
Donate to Project PINK
Why: Project PINK provides free breast cancer screenings to woman who are uninsured. Look out for their mobile breast screening center around town.
Volunteer or participate in Swim Across America
When: September 23, 2017
Where: Lake Norman
Why: This is the first time this open-water swim will be taking place in Charlotte. They are still in need of volunteers and participants and proceeds go to support leukemia research at Levine Cancer Institute. Sign-up here.
Get out there, CLT. We can’t beat cancer without you.
(This content was co-created with Levine Cancer Institute.)