I’ve been doing a lot of podcast interviews lately. One of the most common questions I’m asked is how to best support cancer patients undergoing cancer treatments. As a 4-time cancer survivor I’ve had more than my fair share of practice in this area! So here are my TOP THREE TIPS for how to support cancer patients while they are undergoing treatments.
1. Focus on function over inspiration
We surveyed over 500 cancer patients and gift buyers to curate TheBalmBox.com product line. When we asked cancer patients what they wanted when undergoing cancer treatments, the top performing items were all FUNCTIONAL - like lotion, lip balm, ice packs, and essential oils. The WORST performing items - those that came in DEAD LAST out of 50+ items under evaluation were what we consider "inspirational" – like kicking cancer tote bags, kicking cancer coffee mugs, inspirational poetry, and worry stones. The best thing you can do for cancer patients is to focus on *functional* support - not *inspirational* support.
2. Food is tricky
Before bringing over dinner, even if you are signed up through a meal-train, take a minute to ASK whether the meal is genuinely needed or wanted, and if there are any family taste preferences before you shop and cook. Ask any cancer patient, and we ALL have thrown A LOT of food away because the family wouldn't eat them for the most ridiculous reasons – including but not limited to:
- too spicy
- too bland
- diced zucchini ruined it
- too much cheese makes them gassy
- tired of pasta
- smell was overwhelming to chemo-affected senses
- arrived at the same time as 12 other meals and spoiled before could eat it
Dinners are great, until they aren't. Just ASK before you cook and/or pick up takeout.
3. Respect a patient's request FOR or AGAINST calls and visitors
Some patients love to see folks, some need privacy - and some bounce back and forth depending on the day or hour. Be patient with patients - they are exhausted and in pain, on drugs, and often have to contort into odd positions to get comfortable. Some folks genuinely want and need visits from friends and family - some need to be left alone. Respect their wishes - schedule your visit ahead of time and check in about an hour before showing up just to confirm it's still a good time for a visit.
Stay flexible and patient! If they change their mind at the last minute, do NOT take it personally - you never know when a medication will rear its ugly head and make a patient seriously nauseous, constipated, sleepy, or irritable. It's not you - it's the cancer. Smile and reschedule - and maybe send them a Balm Box in the meantime!