My Girlfriend Has Cancer—What Do I Do?
Sometimes we can feel terribly helpless when it comes to friends with cancer. When I had cancer at 16 years old, most of my friends had no idea what to do or say. It’s almost easier when it’s a family member, as we feel we have “permission” to do anything we can think of to help. It’s different with a friend. How can we be sure what she will see as helpful, and what she will feel as intrusive?
Is there a guide to help your girlfriend through cancer? Now there is! Denise Hazen, cancer survivor, wrote a book called, Treat her like a Princess: How to Help Your Girlfriend with Breast Cancer, and in it, she shares many ways in which you, as a good friend, can help. Here are a few tips from the book—you can grab it from Amazon to read more!
Food: Regardless of your friend’s status (single, married, divorced, with kids, without kids), she will need to eat. Ask about any special dietary issues, and then consider setting up a grocery delivery service or dinner schedule. Get together with other girlfriends and choose days to take meals to her. You may want to ask your friend to write up a grocery list and go to the store for her. If she resists, remind her that grocery stores are full of germs, and if she’s going through chemo, she needs to protect herself as much as possible. Don’t forget things like popsicles and ice cream, as these are helpful for mouth sores and appetite problems.
Thank you notes: Your girlfriend is going to be overwhelmed with health-related tasks during her treatment. She’s likely to have little time to keep up with all the well wishes coming her way. Consider taking control of communication with friends and extended family. Send regular update e-mails for her. Write thank-you notes for gifts and services rendered.
Notes from doctor’s visits: If your friend doesn’t already have someone going with her to doctor’s visits to take notes, volunteer. Most likely she isn’t going to be in the best frame of mind to ask intelligent questions. Take a notebook, help her organize and list her medications (for the doctor’s reference), and talk to her beforehand to get down any questions she may have before going to the appointment.
Kids: If your friend has children, she’s probably going to be worried about them. How will they react to her illness? How will she keep up with their activities? Offer to help explain the situation, or to help drive the kids to dance class and football practice if needed. In some cases you may want to contribute to their lunches, or offer to help with homework. If your friend owns a pet, make sure its not neglected by offering to take the dog for a walk, to the groomer, or to the vet.
A listening ear: For many cancer patients, the one thing they really need—and rarely get—is someone willing to listen, really listen, with an empathetic ear. Too many people respond the wrong way, with false encouragements or admonishments to “be positive” or comparisons like, “my aunt had breast cancer and she made it through just fine.” Resist the urge to advise, and just listen and empathize with your friend. If she says, “I feel terrible today. I’m afraid I’m going to die,” refrain from saying something like, “Of course you won’t die.” Instead, empathize with how she feels. “That must be really scary. Do you think the doctor feels that way, too?” You can help her ease her fear with gentle inquiry, but be sure to always validate her feelings.
Have you helped a girlfriend through breast cancer? What did you find she needed most?
Photo courtesy wiryodisastro via Flickr.com.