10 Practical Ways to Support Someone with Cancer
At the end of September, I got brave and decided to talk more openly about my story as a pediatric cancer patient and survivor. Since September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month, I wanted to do my part in raising awareness and sharing a REAL look at treatment and life after. And yes, while I’ve written a lot about my experiences as a survivor here on HTC, talking about it face to face (well, with my face on Instagram Stories) was really intimidating. It’s hard to relive those memories of my diagnosis, treatment, and life immediately afterward in such details and it puts me in a very vulnerable and sensitive state. But. That IS my story and even though it took me a while to accept it, I now take full ownership of it.
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Time to take a break from pretty pictures and painting kitchens and eyeshadow palettes to talk about something so important and so serious: childhood cancer. ⠀ This picture? This is a picture of me, at 16 years old. I’m about 3 months into my year of chemo and my eyebrows have started to fall out. I was having poison pumped into my body every week and then being so heavily drugged so that I would sleep through most of the nausea and vomiting and the mouth sores and the children who were dying down the hall from my room. I would fall asleep wondering if I would ever wake up again. I spent a year fighting for my life while complication after complication arose and my body was trashed from the chemo and torn apart and stitched back together. ⠀ And somehow, through all of that, I survived. ⠀ ⠀ I survived to continue my fight – while many of my friends on my hospital floor did not. On my worst days, when the survivor’s guilt threatens to eat me up whole and I wonder “why me?” I remember them. And I continue to fight, to live my most vibrant life in honor and for them. ⠀ ⠀ September is childhood cancer awareness month. And this week, I want to pull back the veil on pediatric cancer and talk about anything and everything that comes along with it, in hopes that this little community can raise their voices together and say: “We will not stop fighting until we find the cure.” ⠀ ⠀ Will you join me? #heytherechelsie #myvibrantlife #childhoodcancerawareness #childhoodcancer #childhoodcancersucks #pediatriccancer #cancersurvivor #osteosarcoma #bostonchildrenshospital #thejimmyfund #danafarber #childhoodcancersurvivor #childhoodcancerresearch #gogold #gogoldforchildhoodcancer #gogoldforkids #survivorsremorse #survivorsguilt #chemotherapy
Turns out, talking it about my story ON stories was really therapeutic for me and it was really great to open up a conversation with so many about childhood cancer. I was amazing at how many great questions everyone had and it was really empowering to feel like I could share my experiences in a way to help others be more aware of childhood cancer/Osteosarcoma. However, there was one question that I got during my Q&A week that I didn’t answer on stories, and that was because I wanted to write about it here as a resource for anyone who might need it down the road. That question was:
What can I do to support someone with cancer?
This is SUCH a good question because cancer diagnoses are so heavy and scary. We want to do SOMETHING to help out and to make sure that the person and family know we are there for them, but we can’t take their cancer away. It’s pretty easy to feel helpless.
After my diagnosis, we were smothered with love and care from family, friends, and strangers. I was overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and the number of gifts I received during those first few weeks. While I appreciated every token of love given to me, I will be straight up honest: there were some things that were not as helpful as others when it came to helping us with our upcoming battle. As much as I loved the lotion and the stuffed animals, I ended up with (I kid you not) 50 new stuffed animals and a whole dresser drawer full of lotion. I also received a lot of blankets and candy (blankets are great, but the candy went to my siblings since I couldn’t stomach them after my first chemo.
So, I decided to put together a list of 10 helpful and PRACTICAL gifts and ideas for someone with cancer. These are all gifts or services that were given to me and my family during my treatment that truly helped us and lifted burdens from our shoulders.
10 Practical Ways to Support Someone with Cancer:
- Meals – My mom spent every hospital stay with me for a whole year and they lasted from 3-12 days at a time. My dad was home with my three younger siblings and still working his full-time job. My dad is a great cook, but I know having meals provided for my family while my mom was in the hospital with me was a huge help. Not worrying about having to figure out what to cook for dinner on top of making sure the homework was done and the laundry was done and the kids were ready for school the next day lifted a huge burden off of his shoulders.
- Gas Cards – We had to drive 47.6 miles each way when I had to go to Boston for treatment, checkups, or transfusions. We were making that drive 2-3 times a week, sometimes in a row. That’s a lot of driving and a lot of gas. We were extremely grateful to those who contributed money and purchased gas cards for us to make sure the burden of getting me TO the hospital was lightened.
- Money for Parking – When the hospital you’re getting treated at is in DOWNTOWN Boston, there is no free parking. Even though the Boston Children’s Hospital parking garage had reasonable rates, the fees added up when you were stuck in the hospital for weeks at a time. Having people buy parking vouchers for us to help pay for our parking was super helpful.
- Lawn Service – This may sound super random, but I remember this being one of the sweetest and most practical “gifts” someone gave to us after I was diagnosed. A family friend paid to have a lawn service come once a week to mow our lawn from late spring through early fall. My parents didn’t have to worry about lawn work or how the outside of their house looked for a year and I know that was incredibly helpful to them.
- Entertainment Services – When I was sick, iTunes gift cards were still a thing (does that make you feel old to know that they aren’t a thing anymore?) I was gifted a few iTunes gift cards so I could buy movies, music, and tv shows to watch while at the hospital. Nowadays, I’d recommend paying for someone’s Netflix or Hulu account or an HBO subscription!
- Ginger Lollipops or Cookies – I remember someone giving me 3 GIANT bags of Jolly Ranchers and not being able to eat a single one because the nausea was so bad. However, I will forever be grateful to the chemo angel who gave me a giant bag of ginger lollipops. Ginger is a natural anti-nausea med and I sucked on those things like crazy. When I had a bit more of an appetite, I would nibble on gingersnaps or ginger thins.
- Chapstick – Guys. Mouth sores are no joke. I know, that’s super gross, but it’s a painful and real side-effect of chemotherapy. I had mouth sores all along my lips, inside my cheeks and down my throat, but the worst ones were on my lips. Having chapstick was extremely helpful as they healed and I went through like 10 tubes in a few weeks.
- Childcare – As I said above, my mom spent every hospital stay with me and my dad was in charge of caring for my three younger siblings. We are forever grateful for the friends and family who took my siblings after school, who took them to church, and who took them on their family vacations. My cancer was extremely hard on my siblings (read Cancer through the Eyes of my Sister for my sister’s story) so it was really helpful for them to feel important and loved while my parents were working hard to make sure I got the care I needed.
- Port Pillow – I didn’t have one of these when I was sick, but I SURE wish I did. A port is a small medical device that provides direct access to a central vein and is implanted right under your skin, below your collarbone. It allows the chemo to be administered without having IV’s every time, but the skin above the port gets pretty dang tender from having a needle poked through it every time. Seatbelts over ports don’t help, so port pillows are great to keep cancer patients comfortable when in the car.
- Survivor Chest – If you live far away from a family member or friend who is battling cancer and can’t do any of the above things, I highly recommend looking into sending a Survivor Chest. Survivor Chest is a subscription box mail service that is specifically curated with items to help a cancer patient. Lexi, the founder of Survivor Chest, created the service to carry on her mom’s legacy after she lost her battle to breast cancer. It’s her mission to create care packages for women fighting, thriving and surviving cancer. Each Chest is filled with treasures that will uplift and empower fighters for their journey. Lexie sent me their Hope Chest to take a peek at before I sent it to one of my friends who is currently fighting brain cancer. The Hope Chest is filled with items for a woman who is just starting their fight and includes a journal to keep track of appointments and medication, lip balm, lotion, a mug, and a candle! Everything has been thoughtfully curated to make sure that the ingredients in the products are gentle enough for a cancer patient’s skin, which makes this box even better. Trust me, chemo and radiation can make your skin do ALL kinds of funky things, so I’m really glad Lexie was so picky and thoughtful when it came to the product selection. There are also other kinds of boxes you can send throughout the duration of treatment, including a chemo chest, a glamorous chest, and the pampered chest! It’s a great way to support a patient throughout the course of their treatment and make sure they still feel loved after the initial “support” phase wears out. If you want to order a survivor chest for a friend, feel free to use the code “Chelsie10” for 10% off. (NOT an affiliate code, just a save-you-money code.)
I really hope that this is helpful for those who are looking for practical and helpful ways to help and support someone with cancer. At the end of the day, though, a cancer patient or survivor just needs to know that you love them and that you are there for them. That means showing up and reaching out consistently to make sure they know they aren’t alone.
If you have any questions or ideas to add to this post, please let me know in the comments below.