Written by : Melanie Medina 

4 Ways to Help When Someone You Love Has Breast Cancer

The horrible part about cancer is that, well, you have cancer. But the beautiful part (yes, there is a beautiful part) is that it opens your eyes to the kindness of human beings. Going through breast cancer in 2011 exposed me to an immeasurable amount of love that I never would’ve seen had I not had cancer.

Friends and neighbors helped my family and me when I was recovering from surgery and chemotherapy in ways that mean more than I can explain. And the great thing is, these are gifts that will live on in my memory forever.

When someone you love or care about faces a challenge such as breast cancer, it’s natural to want to do what you can to help. All too often, though, we aren’t sure exactly what it is we can do.

Here are four things you can give to help ease the journey of someone facing cancer.

1. Time

clockOne thing you lose as a cancer patient is time. I lost about three weeks recovering from a bilateral mastectomy, and at least a week, if not more, recovering from each round of chemotherapy.
Gifts that gave me a little time back meant so much. The meals people made for us meant we didn’t have to spend time cooking. The groceries people bought for us and left on our front porch meant we didn’t have to spend time at the grocery store. There are many ways to help a cancer patient carve out a little more time so that they can spend their healthier-feeling moments with family. (Idea: Help your loved one save time cleaning by sending a maid service to their house.)

2. Food

When I was fighting cancer, the way to my heart was through the stomach. Not necessarily my stomach, because I was often nauseated and had no appetite, but through my family’s bellies. I was too weak and too sick to cook most nights, and my husband was busy juggling our 1-year-old and 3-year-old.

Every meal people prepared, sent or ordered made us feel loved and supported. Those meals also took a lot of the decision-making stress off of us. (Idea: Set up a neighborhood meal-planning calendar.)

My co-workers also collected several dozen gift cards to different restaurants—everything from pizza-delivery joints and ice cream shops to higher-end sit-down restaurants. My husband, children and I definitely put these to good use while I was sick, but those gift cards went further than that. When other family members came to help us, we used the gift cards to help feed them, too. Virtually every bite of food I ate during that time came from the kindness of co-workers and friends who fed me during a really crappy year.

3. Presence

In endurance running, there are pacers: people who run alongside the race participant for certain distances to make sure he or she is safe and not too tired to complete the race.

Helping handsDuring my endurance run with cancer, there wasn’t a single point in my race where I didn’t have a pacer right there with me. I believe every cancer patient needs pacers.
My pacers visited me in the hospital. They made cookies for the nursing staff that took care of me after surgery. They sent me DVDs in the mail. They checked in and asked how we were doing.
They didn’t need to be physically present; even Facebook messages letting us know they were pulling for us or thinking of us were helpful, encouraging and needed. (Idea: Send your friend who has cancer a heartfelt text or email.)

4. Money

As a breast cancer survivor, nothing irritates me quite like pink-washing during October. You know what I mean: “Buy this pink box of mac ‘n’ cheese and a portion of sales will go to breast cancer research.” Please, go ahead and buy that specially marked box of macaroni and cheese if you need it, but don’t let the pink ribbons drive your decision.

If you want to give to a cause that advances patient care or cancer research, that’s a noble desire—but spend your money in a meaningful way. Donate to something that actually advances research or supports patient care. A quick Google search for “how to tell if a charity is legitimate” yields a number of results that can help you determine where to donate.

Or consider donating to a research hospital in your area. Most research hospitals have a foundation that raises money specifically for research or patient-care programs taking place at their facility. Generally, if these smaller regional studies are funded and the research yields promising results, it generates interest among much larger donors.

Having been on the receiving end of these four types of generosity, I can also say that even if all you have to give are a few words of support—anything to let that person know you’re thinking of them—give them. Your loved one needs to hear them.

Read Melanie's earlier blog: Surviving Breast Cancer, Cynicism Intact

Read more: The Science of Post-Traumatic Growth

Melanie MedinaOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To learn more go to the National Breast Cancer Awareness website.

Melanie Medina is a breast cancer survivor and freelance writer who loves dog breeds that end with "doodle."

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