There are a couple more posts brewing in my mind now about how to help a friend, based on your questions (How do I help a friend who lives far away? What can I do to help that won’t seem like an empty offer?) and comments that you’ve graciously given to the last few posts. I should start with this disclaimer: there is no wrong way to offer help. Just about any offer would be appreciated by a person facing a new cancer diagnosis or an unexpected recurrence.
But think how much easier it would be if you could offer a specific help, at a specific time that works for you — once you’ve made it that concrete, you’ve made it harder to say no and easier for the person with cancer to gratefully accept. So that’s the first piece of advice. Email (if the person uses email well, it’s usually easier to keep up with than returning tons of phone calls) and say, “I’m going to Target on Wednesday. Can I pick up some (diapers, soda, whateveryoubuythere) for you, or do you need anything else?” Maybe “I’d like to take you to coffee. Would Thursday or Friday morning be better for you?”
But maybe you want to take it a step further.
Each of us has special gifts, and a diagnosis like this is an opportunity to use them to meet a friend’s needs at a critical time in her life. Four that immediately come to mind for me are photography, cooking, quilting, and knitting, with the related arts scrapbooking, stamping, baking, stitchery, and crochet. And then there’s music, words, letters, and jokes. Fun stuff, no? Yes. Most of us have at least one of these talents or interests. Using them is fun for us, and they can be used here to help a friend through a difficult time. We may not be able to heal the cancer, but we can begin to help heal the heart that breaks at the news of a cancer diagnosis or recurrence.
How about these ideas for a friend facing a new diagnosis or struggling through chemo or recovery?
- A family photo — taken before she loses her hair. I cannot emphasize enough how important this can be. Hair loss is a major change to one’s identity, and it takes up to a year for chemo to be complete and the hair to begin to regrow even to the shortest style. A picture — with spouse or kids or pets — is something to cling to, to remember, and can be helpful for all concerned to remember that this is only temporary. My mother did a photo session for us that I will always treasure);
- A collage made of those family photos, or a framed enlargement to hang and another for a child’s room;
- A simple casserole — or a full dinner, with garlic bread and bagged salad;
- Brownies, cupcakes, pumpkin bread, cookies;
- A quilt to cuddle with if she gets the chills after chemo;
- A crocheted or knit cap to keep her head warm — and a scarf if it’s winter, since the back of the neck gets c-o-l-d if there’s no hair at all there;
- A crocheted or knit prayer shawl or yoga shawl to comfort her;
- A needlepoint with a prayer of strength;
- A set of hand-stamped cards for her to enjoy using or sending as thank-you notes;
- A pendant or bead that made you think of her;
- A bookmark, created in whatever art you treasure;
- A musical recording, yours or someone else’s;
- An envelope of jokes, bible verses, or prayers to be opened one by one; or
- A letter, written from your heart.
If these don’t work for you, consider something else that speaks to you and your friend, a special reminder of time that you’ve spent together in the past and speaks strength for her as she goes through these difficult days. A talisman, if you will, that she can bring with her to chemo or hang by her bedside as she recovers.
We all have special gifts, and just about anything you can think of that means a lot to you would be an appropriate gift for your friend. I’ve received many (so many) of the above, and each one has touched my heart. A quilt from Kelly, a bead on a ribbon from Robin Elise, candy from Kim M, a notecard from the BlogHer gals, a photo from Lara, a bookcard from Damselfly, casseroles from so many many friends, music from Canape and Clifford, physics jokes from NYfriend, a crystal from my neighbor’s daughter, and letters and notes from friends all over the world now. Each one heals me. Each one heals my heart. And for that, I offer you this vision of the collective healing spirit that I’ve been afforded this year.
And the news that we have only 4 more chemo dates to go.
What’s a chemo date? A special evening out the night before chemo, just us, no kids. This time together gives us the strength to go in to chemo the next day relaxed and without anything else on our mind. It’s really, really nice.