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Tuesday 15 May 2012

What's the worst thing to ask......

when somebody is recovering from the hammer blows of cancer treatment?

Well, this is going to sound harsh but ringing up someone who is reeling from an operation and a cocktail of drugs and asking "Is there anything I can do?" is not a good question.  This puts the onus on the invalid to think of something for you to do, calculate whether they know you well enough to ask and then default to "Oh, thank you so much.  No, I'm OK.".

What can you do physically?

  1.  Bring food for the deep freeze, wrapped, labelled and dated.  Leave on doorstep.  Toot horn and leave.  This is not about you needing praise.  This is about being a good friend.
  2. Arrive with old clothes and send patient to bed, whilst you mop floors, load dishwashers and wipe down kitchen.
  3. Take dog for a walk.
  4. Take away their ironing and bring it back the next day - done.
  5. Make their bed up with clean sheets.
  6. Say "I am going to the supermarket - a quick trip.  What do you need me to get you or would you like to come too?" (Supermarket shopping in very tiring in the early stages)
  7. Fill up the car with petrol/gas.
  8. Tell them you are picking up their children from school/party/tennis match - asking them if they would like you to immediately invokes guilt.
  9. Send a stupid funny card in the post.  It is lovely to get a letter.
  10. Cleaning loos is optional.  Cleaning baths is not.

How can you help emotionally?

  1. Understand that this is really, really scary, however much the invalid tries to convince you it's not
  2. Understand that the invalid's sense of smell is heightened so too much CK1 can make them gag.  
  3. Understand that this is bone-crunchingly tiring - falling asleep in the middle of a conversation is not rudeness or finding you boring.  It's just falling asleep.  
  4. Listen (without feeling the need to comment).
  5. Understand that losing your hair hurts - a lot.
  6. Understand that this is not your drama.  Crying is NOT an option in the presence of the invalid.
  7. Understand that the rest of the family is feeling tired, anxious and angry too - caring for someone is extremely stressful - especially if the invalid is a bad patient.
  8. Know when it's time to go.  Keep it short and sweet.


  1. Anonymous15 May, 2012

    I really like these lists; although I would say that there is inter-individual variation in responses to cancer diagnosis/treatment and what helps one person doesn't necessarily help another.

    I know that when my Dad had cancer (and associated treatment), what he HATED was someone asking him to talk about his feelings. He HATED the sympathetic "how are you's?". What he hated most was those people who came to see him and said idiotic things like "oh dear; this isn't looking good", or "you look terrible". (Um yes. Please don't rub salt into wounds, people...).

    The little practical things you mention are so important...

    You Rock, Charlotte!


  2. This is wonderful to know! I'm saving your list for future reference.

  3. But what should one do, as in the case of my friend Sue, when the person you are visiting / trying to help insists on turning the focus round to you (i.e. me) all the time? You get the crazy "Your problems are worse than mine..." / "No, YOUR problems are worse than mine"... type scenario.

    And when they INSIST that they don't need any help, no matter how much you ask if you can pick up anything from the supermarket or whatever. And when you DO bring food round, they insist on giving you a gift in return? Aaarrrggghhh, my friend Sue was sooooo frustrating in that she just wouldn't let me help and insisted on doing everything within her power to help undeserving ME. I feel tremendous guilt now...

    1. A distraction from one's own cancer chemo misery is quite often welcome. A present to a dear friend is always cathartic.

      Ditch the guilt. You did all the right thing. xx

  4. PS I don't mean I feel tremendous guilt as a result of reading your lists ;) I have been feeling it ever since yesterday, completely independently!!!! ;)