The American Cancer Society reports that cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States. Most people know someone who has suffered from cancer. It is a painful disease, and for the friends and family of those living with cancer, it can be difficult to know how to comfort the patient. There are, however, a variety of ways that friends and family can help.
Cancer patients can become overwhelmed. One way to comfort is by helping the patient keep life organized. For example, maintaining an accurate schedule of appointments will prevent the added stress of having to remember a hectic schedule. Communicating with the medical team and taking notes at doctor’s appointments can also make life easier for the patient. As there will be a lot of new information given, developing a system to organize it will help the patient feel more in control.
Finding the right words to say can be challenging for the family and friends of cancer patients. The best approach is honesty. If you don’t know what to say, admit it. The vulnerability of acknowledging that the right words are hard to find can itself deliver comfort. Avoid clichés; be simple and real. Words can be either spoken or written. A surprise card in the mail can bring a smile to someone’s face.
Do not make assumptions about the patient’s prognosis. Do not suggest that the patient try to salvage her remaining days. Be encouraging. Root for him. Be a cheerleader. Let her lead the way. If the patient wants to process or talk about certain aspects of treatment, allow him the opportunity to vent. Do not intentionally avoid the topic of cancer or assume the patient does not want to talk about it.
An article published in the June 30, 2008 issue of the Chicago newspaper The Daily Herald reported that dogs can play a key role in offering comfort to cancer patients. Some hospitals even have trained therapy dogs on staff. For cancer patients living at home, having pets can provide a diversion from the other stresses of life as well as help patients feel motivated to go outside for walks and fresh air.
Be proactive. Participate in a 5K that benefits cancer patients. Volunteer to spend time with cancer patients. Read to them. Talk with them. Form a support group for cancer patients. Plan a fundraiser. Stay informed regarding national health care issues.