Practical Cancer Do's & Dont's: Checking in...

Unfortunately, the cancer journey can be a very long one and can test even the most patient of people.  Some times there is lots to do and other times nothing at all.  One of the things that got me through this journey was the very small group of committed friends and family that constantly checked in with me.  I let everyone know that texting, email or messages through Facebook were the best mode of communication for me.  It was just too exhausting to constantly answer the phone and make pleasantries while I was feeling so badly.  If you know someone that has cancer, decide that you are going to check in on them on a regular basis.  A quick daily or weekly check in will let that person know that you are thinking about them and also gives them the opportunity to ask for help or just have someone that will listen to them.

If you decide that you are going to check in...here are a few Do's & Dont's to reaching out...

Do: Ask what the best mode of communication is for them. Text, email, phone, Facebook…what works best for them?

Don’t: Rely on them to check in with you.

 

Do: Consistently check in. You are not bothering us. We want to know that people care and are thinking about us.

Don’t: Go on and on about something unless you know they are interested. Especially on the phone. I stopped picking up the phone, because it would sometimes exhaust me.

 

Do: Simple one liners will do: “How are you doing today”, “Do you need anything?”  “How are you feeling?”  All easy ways to open the conversation & touch base.

Don’t: Send articles that contradict the treatment options they have chosen. That is just so rude and unhelpful.

 

Do: Send a supportive note. Include flowers if budget allows. I made sure I had at least one fresh bouquet of flowers every week. Some came from friends and most of the time my husband would grab me a bouquet at the grocery store.

Don’t: Drop by their house unannounced. Somedays you are so sick you cannot even get out of bed.

 

Do: Be careful to not send too much cancer cure info unless they have told you that they are open to it. If they are, then share it.

Don’t: Send awful stories about people that have died from cancer. Really?  We are trying to get better here and that is so wrong!

 

Do: Invite them to events, but be very understanding that they may not be able to attend. If they say they are coming, but cancel the day of the event. Be compassionate, they have cancer!

Don’t: Pressure them to attend events that you are having and DO NOT make them feel guilty if they say no.

 

Do: Offer to take over a duty at school or in a club that they volunteer with. When you have cancer, it is best to remove yourself from obligations & let friends and family pick up the slack.

Don’t: Ask them for any favors. That can be a burden for someone with cancer.

 

Do: Supportively accept any “No’s” that are given to you by someone with cancer. They would commit to it if they felt they could.

Don’t: Create tasks for someone with cancer. We have enough on our plate as it is.

 

Stay tuned for my next blog; Cancer caregivers need support too...

Practical Cancer Do's & Dont's: You’ve offered your help…

If you have offered to visit, bring meals or help in any other way, please be respectful of their time, their emotional state and their needs.  Having cancer is like being on a boat and having no navigation tools and no sense of where you will be minute to minute or day to day.  One minute I was laughing and teasing about my cancer, the next sobbing about the overwhelming idea that my mortality was in imminent danger.  This is totally normal.  Emotions, fears & your cancer reality will be ever changing.  I never knew what the next day would bring on my journey. 

On several occasions while I was going through chemo, I made plans with people to come visit me.  I always told them that we would check in the morning of the visit and if I wasn’t feeling well we would have to postpone.  I was a little over ambitious with my visitors one particular day, but I was feeling so good, I wanted to squeeze in as many supportive, loving friends as I could.  It actually was a disaster, as all three small groups of people showed up at the same time and I was overwhelmed trying to talk to 6 people at one time.  From that moment on, I decided that I was not going to try and make anyone else happy on this cancer journey at my own expense.  I was very specific in communicating my needs and If I needed a nap, I was going to take one and plans with friends or family would have to change to accommodate me.

Here are some practical Do’s & Dont’s when offering to help someone with cancer...

Do: If you have made an offer to help, follow up. Make definite plans with exact times.

Don’t: Rely on them to call you to make plans. They are overwhelmed and probably not sleeping, so take the initiative.
 

Do: If you said you would be there at noon, be there at noon. Do not show up late!

Don’t: Arrive 2 hours late with excuses. If you can’t do it, don’t plan it.
 

Do: Understand that some days it is difficult to get up, get dressed and wait for visitors.

Don’t: Make someone with cancer wait for you. There is so much waiting already!
 

Do: Be very flexible!  You might need to change the plan if they are not feeling well or up for visitors after all. 

Don’t: Ever show up sick or fighting off a cold or flu. If you have been around someone in the last 48 hours that has been sick, let them know and cancel your visit.
 

Do: When you have cancer, you have good and bad days and you need to honor that.

Don’t: Bring your little kids along unless you have already gotten approval that it is ok.
 

Do: Ask them if they have any issues with perfume or scented items.

Don’t: Show up covered in scented items.  Many cancer patients have heightened senses when going through cancer treatment. Scented items made me extremely nauseous.
 

Do: Ask if they have any diet restrictions or things they cannot eat.

Don’t: Assume they will be able to eat something without asking; taste buds can be off and somethings look and smell terrible that didn’t before.
 

Do: Offer to pick up, drop off & pay for take-out food of their choice.  It is such a treat to have a favorite meal delivered.

Don’t: If bringing a meal, limit your visit to let them enjoy the meal & visit another day.
 

Stay tuned for my next segment; Practical Do’s & Dont’s: Checking in with someone that has cancer...

Practical Cancer Do's & Dont's: Someone you know was just diagnosed...

When presented with an illness like cancer, you have to be your own advocate.  You cannot let anyone make the decisions for you.  This is so personal and you have to follow your intuition and gut on treatment options.  This doesn’t mean that all of the options that are suggested or offered are not valid or don’t have any benefits.  It just means that this is your journey and you have to find the path that is best for you and one that you believe in.  Staying positive and believing in the treatment that you have chosen for yourself is so important.  

Here are some easy Do's & Dont's when you get the news that someone you know has cancer:

Do: Listen!  You can’t fix it, so just hear them.
Don't: Immediately try and fix it by giving advice.

Do: Let them speak before you respond.
Don't: Lecture them. Avoid sentences that begin with “You have to…”

Do: Tell them how you are feeling; shocked, sad, scared. Be honest, it’s helpful.
Don't: Tell them any terrible cancer stories. You would think this was obvious, but hearing scary cancer scenarios is not helpful.

Do: Keep your beliefs positive, kind & understanding.
Don't: Give any unsolicited medical advice like “Tumeric kills cancer” There will be time to share ideas, just not now.

Do: What ever you share, make sure it is positive & supportive.
Don't: Make judgements or criticisms about anything they share with you.  

Do: Ask how you can help?  Offer to bring dinner or pick up their kids from school. Simple, practical offers are so needed.
Don't: Insist that you help.  It is very hard for some people to ask for help. Offer it and let them decide if they want to accept or not.

Do: Respect any medical or non-medical options that they are investigating, even if you don’t agree.
Don't: Say “Chemo will kill you,” or anything remotely similar, that is just plain wrong.

Do: If you have first hand experience with cancer, share it, but keep it upbeat.  Just because you did it differently, doesn’t make their way wrong.
Don't: Have an agenda. This is their journey, not yours.  We all have the right to our own ideas and decisions.

Do: It’s ok to say “Cancer Sucks!”  It does!
Don't: Ever blame the person for causing their own cancer. Don't even imply it, that is just mean and judgmental!  Don’t do it!


Stay tuned for my next segment: Practical Do's & Dont's: You've offered your help...

 

Cancer Cure Overload

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, I was immediately thrown into a whirl wind of medical terms, treatment options, and total disbelief that I had breast cancer in my 40’s.  As soon as I began to share my diagnosis, friends, family members and total strangers inundated me with cancer cures they had read about on the internet.  

I was told, I needed to immediately get on a plane and seek treatment elsewhere as they couldn’t possibly treat me where I lived.  I was told again and again, the best alternative treatment could be found in Texas, Mexico and Europe among other far flung destinations.  I was desperately warned about Western medicine and told I must immediately change everything in my life to survive.  As the owner of a candy store, the first obvious suggestion was that this cancer had been caused by sugar and that sugar had to be completely eliminated from my life…yesterday. 

Advice was given to add turmeric to all my food, drink hydrogen peroxide, take gobs of bizarre supplements, most I had never even heard of.  You must ingest medical cannabis oils, tinctures and edibles with abandon, immediately go vegan, cutting out all meat and animal products, start a green juice fast and avoid chemotherapy at all cost as it will kill me!  Wow!  I'm not saying that all of these suggestions are not without merit, I'm just pointing out that I had cure overload from all of the information.

I was completely overwhelmed and decided that the best way for me to deal with my breast cancer was to do my homework, choose a team of Doctors that gave me choices and not listen to anyone else unless I asked them for help and advice. This proved to be the best way for me to deal with breast cancer, but it did not stop the influx of emails and messages that basically were insinuating that I was not capable of making choices about my own medical care. Looking back, I find it interesting and just a little upsetting that not a single one of the people offering all of this treatment advice had any medical background.  They were not trained in oncology or medicine, Western or Eastern and the majority of them had never been given a cancer diagnosis!

I completely understand the need to give advice to someone you know, but I have learned a very valuable lesson; only give that advice if it is asked for.  Cancer is complicated and every type is different.  When you give unsolicited advice to someone with cancer, it can make them feel overwhelmed, confused and quite frankly it can cause them to feel shame that the cancer is somehow their fault.  "If you only had done xyz, you wouldn't have cancer..." is the message that often comes across.  

In my next blog I will share with you some valuable do's and dont's when supporting someone with cancer.  In my journey, I found tremendous support with OjaiCARES, my local cancer support center. Finding a cancer support center is vital to help you wade through all of the cancer muck you find yourself trapped in.  Trained, caring professionals can help answer questions and guide you with sound advice while supporting your ever changing emotional needs.  Not all advice is bad, but learning the best way to give it can make all the difference.

Stay tuned for my next segment: Practical Cancer Do's & Dont's