How to Be Supportive During Cancer Treatment

Tips and advice on how to help family and friends through chemotherapy and surgeries.

by Leann Reynolds • More.com Member { View Profile }

A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming and frightening, leaving the person not only with important health decisions to make but also their daily lives to still manage.

In 2011, Jennifer Tucker, vice president of marketing at Homewatch CareGivers, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is also a wife and mother of two young girls. During her surgeries and chemotherapy she learned what it’s like to be cared for, and how to ask for and accept the support of family and friends.

“I was really big on asking for help,” she said with her characteristic laugh. “For every chemo treatment, I had someone from my family or my husband’s family come out and take care of the house or the kids.” With their families scattered to both ends of the country, this meant people flying in from Vermont, North Carolina and other places far from her Denver home.

Now in remission and “feeling like a million bucks,” Jennifer said that she was completely exhausted by the treatments. “I didn’t need anyone to wait on me,” she explained. “I just had no energy—it was hard going up and down the stairs.” What she appreciated was having someone else help her kids get their teeth brushed and to read them a story when she was too worn out to do it herself.

Despite her willingness to ask for help, she said she learned some lessons early on in accepting support from loved ones. “If we weren’t specific, it could be more stressful having people in and out of our house,” she said. Once she was aware of her boundaries, she could communicate her needs—such as keeping the floors clean—to her family and enjoy and appreciate them.

“People flew out here to help us, so I don’t want upset my mother, or tell her that something she made doesn’t smell or taste good,” she said. “She wants to be as helpful as possible so I just had to be specific.”

Jennifer strongly believes that the love and support she got from friends and family is part of what helped her to heal. “My coworkers took work on so that I would not feel stressed,” she said. “I could focus on the positive and be relaxed and I think that’s part of why I rebounded so quickly.”

Furthermore she advises people not to feel badly asking for help when it means they want to go get a massage or go shopping alone or go see a nutritionist. “Do not feel selfish,” she said. “You have to take care of yourself. Asking for help does not just have to be, ‘Can you watch my kids during surgery?’, but can also mean you need to take a walk alone so that you can heal and feel mentally OK.”

Tanja Morehouse, a 38-year-old mother of two in Durango, Colorado, is currently going through chemotherapy after have a double mastectomy since her breast cancer diagnosis in 2011. She has found it more difficult to ask for help during her surgery and treatment.

“In the beginning it feels like you are in this situation all by yourself,” she said. “You don’t want people to suffer with you.” Her sisters, mother, and girlfriends stepped in and insisted on creating a sort of committee of help along with her husband.

“I liked having people with me at every doctor appointment because it’s hard to keep track of everything,” she said, admitting that sometimes it also felt like a hindrance when that person would start asking a lot of questions too.

Much like Jennifer, Tanja came around to see that it makes people feel good to help out. “Just try to take a step back and let people do things for you,” she said. “Those people appreciate that they got to help you because it makes them feel good.”

Joyce Acheson, 53, is a breast cancer survivor of six years. She too was reluctant to ask for much help after her diagnosis. Joyce found a lump, but it did not show up on many early tests so she did not bother to do any research until a lumpectomy confirmed her initial concerns. “Friends referred me to other survivors,” she said. “I spoke to a woman who gave me advice like to ask for the pathology report and get loose-fitting clothes.”

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