Using Your Gifts

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?

Choose one.

  • 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.


22 Responses to Using Your Gifts

  1. Only 4??? Yipeeeeee!!!

    Thank you for doing this… I can’t imagine how many people you are helping by doing it.


    ps – Thanks for visiting 🙂

  2. Christy says:

    This is a great post!! I know that all of us truly WANT to be supportive of our friends in times like this, but it is hard to find the right thing to do. These suggestions help immensely. They are personal, out of the ordinary, and practical ideas that will hopefully make someone feel better about what they are going through. Thank you so much for the suggestions. I will keep this list handy for years to come.

  3. Gill says:

    Thanks for this post. It is sometimes so difficult to think of the right way to go about helping someone newly diagnosed. I’m going to print out your list and file it.

  4. jj says:

    Fantastic information.

  5. These are wonderful ideas. Like Gill, I’m going to save this list. I’m sending you imaginary cupcakes and spirit-filled brownies at this very moment.

    Since I’m now a registered yoga teacher, I’m going to see about offering restorative yoga to women who want or need a healing touch. Any ideas on how to get involved in that?

  6. Amanda says:

    Your suggestion to offer specific help is so right. My stepmother is beginning chemo/radiation for another type of cancer. The hospital is nearly an hour away, with some intimidating traffic along the way that none of us small-town folks are used to. My father is also chronically ill, and the daily trips are very hard on him. Yet they do not want to ‘bother’ me, since I have two young kids to take care of. I have offered and offered to drive, and kept getting, “ok, maybe,” responses. Then I just gave them each date I am able to drive, and presto, they have agreed at accept my help.

  7. juliepippert says:

    You have been such a wonderful help (I’d say resource but that seems so…impersonal). I packed a bag of chemo day treats for my friend based on your suggestions and left it on her porch. She really liked it.

    A really well-organized friend is coordinating us for food and so forth.

    So I look forward to long-distance ideas.


    Using My Words

  8. whymommy says:

    Maria Cristina, do you have a Wellness Community in your area? Most of them offer yoga classes that are incredibly good for cancer patients. If there’s not one near you, call your local hospital or cancer center and offer to give weekly or monthly classes for a semester … I’m sure they’d love it!

    What amazing gifts you all have.

    P.S. I’m working on the long-distance post … anyone want to step up and chime in with ideas for that one? I’d appreciate it! That, and a cooking post that Canape and her Momma are working on, should wrap up this series. I’ve been really pleased with it, though, so come back and contribute ideas or comments any time!

  9. carosgram says:

    My girlfriend who lives far away had a reoccurence of ovarian cancer. Since I couldn’t be there for her, I sent her packages in the mail almost every day. Often they weren’t much, a paperback book, a hand/body lotion, bookmark, a trinket, just something so she would know I was thinking of her and to give her something to look forward to. Once a week I sent her something baked – the first week because it was near Christmas I sent Gingerbread men cookies. I found out from her that ginger is supposed to be very beneficial to people with ovarian cancer. I made sure she had a steady supply of ginger snaps after that. Each gift was accompanies by a card with just a brief note. Her husbands reaction was so positive that I knew she really appreciated the gifts.

  10. […] add:  There was a lot of interest in this post, so I’ve added related posts on big ideas, using your gifts, and helping a faraway friend and linked them at the top of this page under How To Help A […]

  11. […] here just to suggest some really good reading. WhyMommy has been doing a series of posts about how to help a friend with cancer. It’s not your average vague suggestion to “make yourself available”; she’s […]

  12. What a beautiful list! It should be made into a calligraphy poster for hospitals. People just go blank with all their anxiety around the word “cancer,” that sometimes it’s hard to think of anything to do, when the most simple thing can means so much. Thanks for coming up with this!

  13. Bon says:

    it’s true that in any time of struggle small gestures mean an incredible amount…and yet so many of us get intimidated by not wanting to intrude or say the wrong thing that we leave those we love far too alone with their hard times. and we miss out on helping heal hearts with thoughtfulness.

    i really appreciated this.

  14. WorksForMom says:

    Once again, brilliant post WM. 4 more chemo dates? Oh I can see light at the end of the tunnel, can you?

  15. mayberry says:

    This is SOOO helpful. I have seen stories like it in magazines but you have included so many more ideas that I’d never read or thought of. Thank you!

  16. Cheryl says:

    Your words are so beautiful:

    “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.”

    There are so many hearts that break when cancer raises it’s ugly head in the world whether you are the person who is ill or the loved one of someone that is. As a daughter who lost her father to cancer this year, one of the most comforting things to me was just knowing that people were thinking about me. Getting a card from a good friend acknowleding my first Father’s Day without my dad meant a great deal. Though I have never posted before, please know that I am thinking of you and your family every day, following your journey and wishing you comfort and healing. Thanks for everything that you share.


  17. Aunt Pat says:

    We are all counting down with you. Hang in there !! You look good in any hat.
    Take Care!

  18. alhaimy says:





  19. canape says:

    Ha. I should write a post on what not to do 🙂

  20. Ally says:

    I never would have thought of the family photo session. But it makes so much sense as you’ve explained it here. Thanks again for these tips.

  21. NotAMeanGirl says:

    Hey there. Delurking for just a moment. I bake… and make candy for the Holidays. Could ya use some?

  22. Bea says:

    Ej a je mir cka po bon a je mir a u lodhe a jo hajde dil ne internet more ce prej kurit stkom pa dil ma shpejt ne internet se pot presi

%d bloggers like this: