Big Ways to Help

November 29, 2007

The last post wasn’t exactly complete.  There are, of course, other ways to help a friend with cancer, and I hope you’ll help me fill out the list in the comments to this and the other posts.  Already, there are some amazing comments about helping the spouse of a person with cancer and specific household help for the day after chemo.  Genius, guys, thanks! 

The most amazing help that I’ve personally experienced are all Big Deals, but I would be remiss in not recounting them here.  These take quite a bit of effort but can be done more easily in groups.  One friend can take the lead in organizing help — a great idea in any case, as there is SO MUCH going on when a person is newly diagnosed with cancer that offers to help can easily get lost in the shuffle.  A lifechanging event like a cancer diagnosis can feel like a whirlwind.  The person with cancer may not feel like accepting help at first (trust me on that), but later it may become necessary … or at least welcome.

One of the greatest gifts is organization.  Are you a listmaker?  Or good with spreadsheets?  Offer to organize the offers of help for the person with cancer.  If you’ve got a group of her friends that want to help, great!  If not, offer to respond to those other friends that contact her with offers of help and help them figure out what is most needed.  Remember, everyone will offer to help at first — but the effects of chemotherapy are cumulative, so the help may be most needed at the end when she is most tired.  (Not always true if, for instance, the chemo regimen changed like mine did.  But even the later Taxol treatments, gentler than the original AC doses, have been much harder than the first ones.  And the cumulative effects of the diagnosis alone do add up to tears and fears after weeks or months of living with cancer.)

The organizer can make a list of friends and their specific offers to help, spacing them out appropriately so that everyone doesn’t bring dinner all at once, for example.  Perhaps there’s a specific need that the person with cancer has, like driving her to chemo and sitting with her once a week.  That can be a big job for one friend but much easier for a group of people that can each spend a few hours once.  There are other long-term ideas that you can come up with.  Perhaps she needs help at the grocery store, if lifting and bending are difficult and her husband works long hours or has a big commute.  Perhaps she is having trouble making the bed because of the neuropathy in her fingers from Taxol or Taxotere.  Maybe one week she’s got really bad bruises from the IV and is having trouble with the baby.  The ideas are endless, but the thought is the same … keep her company, and keep yourselves sane … figure out a way to spread out the help because the weeks get long and cancer, unfortunately, has no quick fix.

These are the most amazing ways that my friends have helped me through this.  Each is a Big Deal, which is why I didn’t mention them in the last post.  The last thing a friend needs is guilt or overextension.  But if you have a group of friends or can organize one, these have been lifesavers:

  • Team WhyMommy – a bunch of online friends and blogneighbors that get together to keep me company, especially on the low days, but most importantly EVERY day, just in case;
  • MOMS Club support – they divvied me up and each mom took a week to take care of me.  Each Sunday, I get a call from a friend offering babysitting, shopping, cleaning, cooking, or company, and we set something up for the week.  (I’ve been lucky to only need babysitting, cooking, and company.  But God Bless Them for offering to clean.);
  • Morning out – one of my mom friends babysits Widget each week while I go to yoga, giving me “permission” to spend a couple hours on myself.  I know I can truly relax in the darkened yoga room if my little Widget is out having an adventure with his friends and not missing me that much; and
  • Chemo Fairies – every Thursday morning before chemo, one of the moms drops off a little gift bag filled with treats, mints, and happies to help me through the day.  It’s totally spoiling me, but and it’s made a huge difference in how I view Thursdays.  Although I dread getting up to go to chemo in the morning, I also know that friends are thinking of me and I’m NOT ALONE as I fight this beast.

Like I said, these are all Big Deals and commitments.  But they have made all the difference to me.

I’m off to chemo again this morning … number 12!  I’m in good spirits now, but it’s been a tough week this week and I’d appreciate a little company today.  I’ll be checking email/web … if you’ve got a minute and you’re so inclined, would you please leave me a comment to say hi?