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You get the news… a friend or family member has just been diagnosed. You are in shock, you cry and you want to see them.
Then… you wonder what you can do for them. Flowers? Chocolates? What do you even buy someone who’s just received this awful news?
Their life has just turned crazy. They’re having more tests and scans, they’re having surgery, they’re organising their life so they can function with their kids through the coming months of chemo and radiotherapy… what can I do? What can I buy? What do I say?
I have worked together with the amazing gals in my young breast cancer support group, to ensure that you know what to do if something like this affects a loved one.
One in eight women will be diagnosed with Breast Cancer in their lifetime… chances are that you will know someone, even if you don’t just yet.
Eight women die each day from Breast Cancer.
So let’s get started… I’ve broken them down into different categories.
IN THE BEGINNING – IT’S EARLY DAYS…
A beautiful shoulder bag
Why? To carry their drains and tubes after breast surgery – it’s a great way to disguise them so you can get out and about.
Host a lunch/dinner with close friends before the first chemo
It’s such a great feeling to see everyone before you begin treatment. Knowing they’re all in your corner cheering you on is really encouraging.
Cards and Flowers
These are beautiful gestures in the beginning because you’re so busy with appointments, tests, scans and surgeries, it’s not always possible for you to be able to see friends and family. This tells them that you’re thinking of them and it’s also a great gesture if you’re not really close friends, yet you want to show your support and good wishes as they take on their battle.
AS TIME GOES BY…
Thoughtful and personalised hampers
I think I received about four beautiful hamper style gifts. They were tailored and meant the world to me. They included things like magazines for both hubby and myself. Herbal teas, candles and different items with tags attached, explaining what the purpose for the item was for.
I had kind friends that knew exactly what to do (and how to tug on the heart strings… I was so incredibly moved by the generosity and genuine thought and effort that went into these gifts). To me, it said “I’m thinking of you, I’m here for you and I just wish I could take it all away, but I can’t.” I felt both the pain of my friends and the warmth and love through their gifts.
Movie Night (in PJ’s)
My girlfriends dropped round a pair of beautiful silk PJ’s during the day before we all got together that night. It was such a special surprise.
A beautiful blanket
Can be taken to chemo or used at home on the lounge.
Natural Beauty Products
Lip balms, Hand Cream, Nourishing body creams – perhaps even a bath kit (steer clear of any nasty chemicals as the skin becomes very sensitive during treatment).
A gorgeous Head Scarf
Whilst an emotional gift to give, it will be truly appreciated.
A written card
Don’t underestimate the old-fashioned ‘hand written’ card – it honestly means the world. I kept every single card I received.
A beautiful notepad
Where they can document side effects and questions to take to each medical appointment.
A nice basket
To store medication at easy reach (trust me – there will be a lot of drugs – anti-nausea, steroids, pain killers, sleeping tablets, dry mouth sprays, sick bags, mints etc etc)
Cotton gloves and rich moisturiser – your hands dry out A LOT particularly because you wash your hands so much for the fear of catching germs and getting sick during chemo.
I’d suggest fiction so they can escape reality.
Beware: there are plenty of books about cancer… what to eat, how to treat, alternative medical opinions etc – unless you know your friend really REALLY well, be careful. They may not be ready for any kind ofself-helpp book or a book that says they can cure their cancer by changing their diet).
I know that personally, when I was diagnosed, I was soooooo angry about it. I didn’t seek complimentary information until much later down the track, so be careful with book choices as you may unintentionally offend.
Comfortable ‘trackies’ (house pants), Fuzzy socks, New PJ’s (button up for after surgery)
All these ‘comforts’ are truly appreciated and might be just the thing to put a smile on their face.
Rosary beads/Guardian Angel/Angel of Protection/Prayer books etc. Caution: some people stray from religion when diagnosed with a life-threatening illness so a religious gift may be offensive. Not everyone turns to religion in difficult times.
Make sure they’re freezer friendly or call ahead to let them know you are dropping something off. Perhaps between friends you can organise a roster so there isn’t an inundation of food and then nothing when they need it the most. It was so helpful to have meals dropped off – even if I didn’t have an appetite, I knew my family was being looked after (since I’m the cook of the family).
It also offers them an opportunity to eat well when they simply can’t be bothered (energy is certainly not running high during treatment).
Perhaps drop off some fresh fruit and veg.
Aloe Vera Plant
This was one of the most thoughtful gifts from a fellow cancer fighter and friend. I used the Aloe Vera on my radiotherapy burns – it was a godsend.
Offer to be a note taker
Offer to attend medical appointments even if they have their husband or partner or parent etc. I remember the week I was diagnosed, we were in Sydney and in just ONE day, I saw my breast surgeon, had to get another urgent biopsy, saw a fertility specialist, an oncologist, back to the fertility specialist and back again to the breast surgeon (yep one crazy, emotionally charged day, my head was spinning).
My hubby and I had my sister in law come to some of the appointments just to be an extra set of ears. We had so many decisions to make with regard to IVF and the type of breast surgery I was going to have… I was distracted and my head was not clear – I was too busy being shocked and afraid that I might die and not see my children grow. Having my sister in law with us meant that she could recall the information that we’d forgotten.
Offer to start a private FB Group
By having a One Stop ‘update’ shop so to speak is a great way to lessen the burden of replying to 20 texts and 10 phone calls when you are exhausted. I didn’t do this, but I think it’s a great idea.
DON’T FORGET THE KIDS AND HUBBY/SUPPORT PERSON…
Sadly, cancer creates a ‘big arse mess’ and it changes everything. All of a sudden ‘home life’ is not as it was and things are stressful, sad and tense at times. Kids and partners feel the pain too. They need a break just as much as ‘mum’.
Why not organised a boys weekend for hubby or partner or offer to take the kids out for the day for some fun (so they can still be kids).
MOST IMPORTANT – (FOR THE CLOSE FRIENDS AND FAMILY)
My blog is a great place to start). Anything in blog-tober will give you an insight into feelings, treatments etc. You can also check out Cancer Council Australia and National Breast Cancer Foundation Australia.
Listen – REALLY listen
If they’ve chosen you to talk to then they value your friendship (or they wouldn’t bother). It’s really exhausting to talk, so they’ve picked you for a reason. We face really big decisions throughout treatment, sometimes we will want to talk about the same thing over and over again – are you right for the job?
Create laughter – lots of it
Don’t wait for them to reach out – you need to reach in (a quote from my hubby – he said this to my friends right from the start “Bec won’t reach out you need to be there and you need to reach in” he said).
Offer open-ended invitations
Maybe it’s a no to coffee this week, but perhaps a yes next week when they’re feeling better and need company.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED
Ensure all presents and offers of support are with no strings attached. Don’t expect a written thank you or for them to write a text to the ten people who dropped food off this week. Whilst someone battling cancer will try as hard as they can – the very thought of sitting with your phone to write 15 messages or call 10 people is utterly exhausting. When I felt good, I wanted to embrace my family and try as hard as I could to show them that their mum and wife still existed.
Trust in the fact that no matter how great or small the gesture, your thoughts, actions of good will, love and prayers mean the absolute world to anyone fighting cancer.
P.S. Don’t forget them after treatment
Post-treatment is one of the most difficult and isolating stages to overcome. A lot of women suffer from shock and delayed realisation of what they’ve been through in the past months. They need your support and friendship more than ever when they’ve ticked that last treatment box.
This article originally appeared on Bec Braid.com. It was republished with permission from the author.