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When we find out a friend or family member has cancer, we want to help. Sometimes the needs are obvious and easy to identify. Other times, the friend or family member really doesn’t know what they need as they are slowly trying to adjust to this new “normal.” This can leave you feeling helpless!

I know I’ve struggled in the past for ways to help friends and family, especially ones that live in another state. So with the help of some friends, I’ve stared this resource page of things that I’ve found helpful for us as a family, or things that I never would have thought of as a friend, and want to remember for another time when I’m able to help someone else.

While some of these directly apply to a person with cancer, many of them could really be applied to any friend, for any reason. I hope you find them helpful as you look to help your friends and family. I’ve tried to think outside the box a bit about what might really be helpful, but obviously it will depend on the family.

(I’ll be honest. I feel a little uncomfortable writing this as I don’t want it look like a wish list for our family. That’s not it all. Some of you have amazed me at things you have thought to do for us and I’ve heard some great suggestions from others that I never would have thought of on my own. We are all in this together and if I’ve learned something that I can share to help someone else, why not share it?)

Prayer:

  • Ask for specific things you can pray for.
  • Write medical appointments, scans, tests etc. on your calendar so you can pray specifically for those things and follow up with them.
  • Write out your prayers for them and drop them in an email or write them in a note.

Care Packs:

Everyone loves getting packages in the mail. The little care packs I have gotten from people were such a blessing and a sweet reminder that someone was thinking of us and praying for us.

Below are a some ideas and suggestions compiled by myself and friends. (And FYI, some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning if you buy something using that link, I get a tiny percentage of that purchase at no extra cost to you. Thanks for helping to keep this blog online.)

Companies that create care packages for cancer patients:

Ideas of things to include in a care pack:

  • Devotion book
  • Fun book to read (think about asking if they prefer a book or an e-book)
  • The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard
  • Just Show Up: The Dance of Walking through Suffering Together (This is a great book for you to read too, as a friend.)
  • Pill keeper
  • Antibacterial hand sanitizer
  • Kleenex
  • Crackers
  • Assorted drinks (You never know what is going to taste good after chemo and it’s nice to have options. One time I wanted Gatorade. The next time I wanted nothing to do with Gatorade. Variety is nice!)
  • Gift cards (grocery store, Jamba Juice, Starbucks, Amazon, movie theater, restaurant that delivers or does takeout, iTunes, Google Play, etc.)
  • Handwritten verses on notecards
  • Note of the day (write 30 notes (or however many days are in the month) so they have a note of encouragement to open each day
  • Small bottles of lotion
  • Lip gloss or lip stick
  • Chapstick
  • A small pad of paper or a journal (Maybe think about their computer skills and preferences on this one. Some people do everything on the computer and might enjoy a fun journaling app instead.) If they have kids, maybe even journals for them to have for each child so they can write little messages and letters to them. (Someone gave me a set of 3 little journals which I’m going to use for that!)
  • A CD or album on iTunes
  • Mint lifesavers (sometimes chemo meds give you a horrible taste in your mouth)
  • Sugar free candies (A friend sent me these and they are really good. I have never liked a sugar free candy until I tasted these.)
  • Samples or full size Biotine products to help with dry mouth and sores in their mouth from the chemo Maybe include a fun new soft toothbrush too! Who doesn’t love a new toothbrush?
  • Smooth Move Herbal Tea
  • Their favorite candy or treat from the grocery store
  • Seat belt cover (Sometimes the seatbelt is uncomfortable if it goes over your port. It doesn’t bother me at all, but it does bother many.)
  • Gentle skin care products like Cetaphil
  • Fun hats and scarves (I didn’t know what I would want on my head until after I actually lost my hair. It was fun to have a few things to try until I figured out what I preferred.)
  • A quilt or homemade blanket
  • A lap desk for times they want to write notes or work on their laptop in bed
  • A three ring binder with empty page protectors so they can file paperwork in one place and keep things organized, You could also include notebook paper and a cute pencil pouch in the front with pens and pencils. Maybe even a calendar printed out for them to keep track of Dr. appointments.   (This is another one you need to think about your friend’s computer usage.       I do all this on my computer/phone, but I know others who would LOVE this.)
  • Favorite magazines
  • Adult coloring book and colored pencils
  • Water bottle
  • Flowers

how to help a friend or family member with cancer

Meals:

  • TakeThemAMeal.com – Easy way to organize meals for a family who needs them. I know my cousin chose to use this one for us because users do not have to set up an account to sign up to bring a meal.
  • If possible, take the meal in dishes that do not need to be retuned for you. Maybe even think about including paper plates, napkins and silverware so they have everything they need and don’t have to do dishes.
  • If you are bringing a meal, try and find out if they enjoy leftovers.       If meals are being provided often, sometimes too much food actually makes it harder on the family. You could even send along some containers to put the leftovers in.
  • Prepare some crockpot freezer meals and deliver them. All they would need to do is defrost them and put them in their crock pot.
  • Don’t forget about breakfast.  What about delivering breakfast the night before or having something frozen they could just defrost and heat up in the morning.

If you live out of town and still want to help with a meal:

  • Have a local restaurant deliver a meal.
  • Place an order with a local grocery store that could deliver a meal they just had to pop in the oven. (I’ve used Safeway.com before for this and it worked great. Amazon Fresh also delivers and is really easy to use.
  • Have frozen food delivered. Last week we had a box on our doorstep with frozen pizzas and candy, shipped with dry ice. I would have never thought of that! It was something we could put in the freezer and use one night when we needed a quick meal! (And they were really good!)
  • Call their church and see if you could send money or a gift card and if someone local could prepare a meal for you.  You could also do this through a mutual Facebook friend.
  • If you are an Amazon Prime member, there is a new service called PrimeNow which delivers food.
  • This idea might not appeal to every family, but as the family of a chef, or even for someone that loves to cook, I LOVE this idea!  What about getting some friends together and buying them a counter top pressure cooker and sending them a link to some recipes online? You could even have the groceries delivered.  How cool would that be? (Seriously, this might be the best thing we own in the kitchen and remember, I’m married to a chef. You should listen to me on this one.) It is super easy to use and you can just throw things in and they are done in literally no time. Even people who can’t cook could use this thing. I have even thrown uncooked spaghetti noodles and pasta sauce in it and it worked. Anyone can do that, right?
  • Order some fun snacks for the family and have them delivered.  Amazon.com or Amazon Fresh are both great!

Helping Around the House:

As you offer your help, think about how you are asking. For example instead of just saying that you can help with cleaning, cooking, etc. whenever they need it, what if you said, “If it would be helpful, I’d like to bring a friend with me and come clean your house on Tuesday.” If it’s something they need and it’s helpful, great! If it’s not helpful they can let you know. It’s not easy to ask for help and this might make it easier for the person who needs it. It’s just an idea. Oh, and if they say it wouldn’t be helpful right now, don’t forget to ask again at a later date! Needs change over time!

  • Yard work
  • Yard maintenance for the upcoming season (pruning, leaf raking, etc.)
  • Moving firewood
  • Cleaning (offer to pay for a cleaning service, or help clean)
  • Help with grocery shopping or offer to grab a few things from the store when you are there.
  • Help with laundry. (Maybe even offer to take it to your home, do it there and then bring it back)
  • Iron
  • If you are helping around the house, grab the kids and teach them what you are doing if they don’t know how to do something (or maybe they need a reminder)
  • If you are a neighbor, take their trash cans out to the curb each week so they don’t have to worry about it.

Financial:

Finances are a tough one. It’s probably one of the hardest things for people to ask for help with. Plus, I think you have to be a pretty close friend or a family member for it to not seem weird in a conversation. But that’s just me.

While at the moment medical bills are not burying us financially, for some people this is a real burden. You might not be comfortable asking about this, but here are a few ideas on how you might help:

  • If they attend a church, talk to them and see if they know of any financial needs you can help with. You can even request to help anonymously.
  • Give them a gift card for the grocery store or for gas. That way the money they save in that part of their budget can go toward medical bills.
  • Provide them a meal.
  • If you grab something from the store for them, don’t let them pay you for it.  (They might insist, but it’s worth a try.)

The Kids:

  • Send encouraging messages or texts to the kids if they have email or a cell phone.  Think about including your friend or family member in the text or email too as this will be an encouragement to them as well.
  • Send some snail mail, either from your kids or from you.
  • Holiday clothes shopping – We are big on wearing cute shirts and outfits for each holiday. Our kids just love it. I called my mother-in-law and just asked her to take over the holiday clothes shopping for me. I knew I wouldn’t be out and about to find the things we needed and she was the perfect person to help!
  • Take the kids with you if you and your family are doing something you think they would enjoy.
  • Babysit if they are up for getting out of the house
  • Come read or play games with the kids at home so they can rest or work.
  • Instead of just offering to help with the kids when they need it, offer a specific time and plan. “Can I take your kids home with me after workout so they can play for a bit?  Can I drive your kids to AWANA?  Can I take the kids with me to get hot chocolate from Starbucks this afternoon (and if you are up to it would you like to come with us)?” Etc. . .

Electronic ideas:

  • Send encouraging texts with verses or even links to music videos on YouTube. Maybe include, “No need to reply. Just thinking about you.”
  • If you have the skills to do it, offer to set up a blog for them or a closed Facebook group for them to help keep friends and family updated on how they are doing and how they can pray for them.  If you don’t have the skills to do this, find someone who does.  (I would totally do this for someone!)
  • Are they thinking about their pictures and videos (maybe even slides)? Can you help get them in a digital format so they can view them easier?
  • Cancer makes you look at life differently and you start thinking about what would happen if you were to die.  Is your friend thinking about their bills, file cabinet, organization?  Would their family benefit from having that more organized, maybe even digitized?  Can you help with this?

Just Show Up

I know I’ve talked about a book with that title. But in this case, I mean just show up. Depending on the friend and what you are helping with, it might be OK just to show up and take care of something. Obviously do this carefully. It’s probably not a good idea to show up at someone’s door and say, “I’m here to clean your house,” as that could be very intrusive.

But here’s something that someone did for us that might get you thinking . . .

After Tom broke his back 4 years ago, one Saturday morning a group of friends from church showed up at our door for a “flash leaf raking party.” My friend Kim had noticed the ridiculous amounts of leaves in our yard and saw that need and knew Tom could not help. So they didn’t even ask. They just showed up at the door, told us to stay inside where it was warm and shortly all the leaves were in a trailer and they were saying good bye.

At that time, I didn’t know her or her family very well at all. One of the people there, I had only met once and had to ask his name. Yet they showed up and took care of a need we had. If she would have asked, I probably would have said we were OK and then figured out how to tackle that job or just left them. I will NEVER forget that morning and how much that meant for us. (And she’s already told me she’s checking our trees each week and when the last leaf falls, they will be over to take care of them again.)

Other helpful resources and ideas I’ve thought of or found on-line:

  • Make them a Promising Box. This is an amazing idea of something to do for a terminally ill friend. Basically you invite friends and family to write letters or promises of things they will do for the friend’s family once they are gone. What an amazing way to show your love for them and for their family. There are more details here.
  • Commit to writing them a letter or card each week. Tell them your commitment and when you will be writing so they can expect it and look forward to it. (I look forward to my mail every Monday because of a friend that does this for me.)
  • 44 Ways to Make the Day of Someone with Cancer

So a couple things before you go. . .

  • If you have any other ideas, will you please leave them in the comments so I can add them to this post?
  • If you are going to be shopping on Amazon.com this Christmas season, would you consider using my affiliate link? It doesn’t cost you anything or change your shopping experience in any way, I just get a very tiny percentage of your purchase and it helps to pay for the cost to keep this blog online. Thanks. 🙂
  • Will you share this post on Pinterest, Facebook and whatever other social media you use?  I just love these ideas and am so happy to have so many people share their thoughts on this topic.  Just click one of the buttons below to share!

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