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27 Ways to Make the Day of Someone With Cancer

elanaingardenA quick note about the World Domination Summit coming up this weekend: I will be in Portland, Oregon for WDS from July 10-14 and would love to meet up with readers who are there!

If you sent me a message already I flagged it and will do my best to follow up with you in the next few days or at the conference. The best way to connect will be to Tweet me (@ElanaMD) at the conference events — I’ll be using Twitter to find and meet people in real time.

Also, my appearance has been changing so rapidly lately that I’ve posted a selfie of me in my parents’ garden (pretty sweet set up, right?) to help you pick me out in a crowd. Looking forward to seeing some of you soon!

——-

Ladies and gentlemen, I have reentered the realm of the living.

It’s now been a month since I’ve restarted the heavier-duty chemotherapy (and it’s upgrading further next week), and there are reminders that my body can’t function like normal (random, profuse nosebleeds; dizziness and fatigue; heart starts pounding after meals because digesting and trying to automate my blood pressure simultaneously are too much to handle), but the physical shift in my wellbeing these last few weeks has felt nothing short of miraculous.

I don’t know how to describe it other than to say I wasn’t a person before — I was a shell, a shadow, a placeholder consumed with immediate, seemingly insurmountable tasks like, “How do I get that glass of water?” or “I’m hungry but will that popcorn make me vomit?”

Now, I am a human being again, and albeit a tired, woozy, and easily-drained one, I am a human being who has started to remember what it feels like to be excited for the future, who likes making plans, and who is re-experiencing so many simple pleasures like eating good food, sipping tea in the morning, sitting in my parents’ garden to read a good novel.

Oh, and while I had been chronically 10-15 lbs underweight since getting diagnosed (getting down to a low of 117 lbs in the weeks after the housing/breakup fiascos – no bueno for a young woman of 5’9), I have now gained ALL my weight back and am the same respectable 130 lbs I was before this all started. It’s amazing!

Sadly, the weight gain has not been even — between inactivity and chemo, I’ve lost quite a bit of muscle mass and gained back mostly fat, such that my body resembles something along the lines of Sponge Bob Square Pants (think skinny arms and legs sticking out of a boxy, protruding midsection).

Between that and the prednisone-induced chubby face caused by a recent course of steroids, I look good (and healthy!) but let’s just say I’ve looked… sexier (the above selfie was definitely carefully selected to be the most flattering). Of course, who really cares about having a chubby face when I finally feel like I’m alive again. This beggar is not a chooser.

Amazingly, all of these these improvements are happening as my chemo schedule has gotten worse, not better.

So, I feel extremely heartened, but a bit aghast at the same time, as I realize how much of the horrific physical illness I’d been dealing with these last few months was caused by external stress unrelated to cancer or chemotherapy treatment. I look back and wonder how much of the bullshit I was dealing with was… unnecessary.

But, in the end, I did the best I could at the time with the knowledge I had (and handled an impossible situation as well as I could), and so did those around me. Onwards and upwards.

However: My horrible, crazy landlord does not get such a pass… not only did she steal my $5k deposit, she’s now threatening to sue me for an additional $4k for fabricated “damages” to her house on top of the deposit. Don’t worry, though, I’ve got a plan… If you contacted me before offering legal advice, I really appreciate it, and I may follow up with you soon!

Anyway. I was so happily blown away by the response to my last post suggesting some product ideas I’ve been thinking of creating. I got so many amazing ideas about projects I’d like to tackle down the line (broadening the comments section, for example, which has bloomed into a dialogue between others asking questions and offering support and suggestions, into a forum) but for now will be starting smaller.

I had planned on sending out a follow-up survey for more feedback before getting started, but the ideas feel so well-congealed in my mind that I’m ready to hit the ground running and get started!

I have decided I will focus my current energies on two projects: 1) A free PDF cancer quick-start guide, and 2) A paid digital course on transforming trauma into spiritual awakening.

Project #1: The Free Cancer Guide

I got so much positive feedback on those two posts on human nature and how to help someone with cancer that it seemed natural to compile those articles into their own separate document that can be easily shared with anyone and everyone it might help.

I will edit and compile those posts, include a brief intro to me and my cancer story, list out the most helpful guidelines about making the mental shift when you get a cancer diagnosis, and add several “Tip Sheets” meant to be shared with friends and family on topics like “27 Ways to Help Someone with Cancer” (keep reading below to get a preview of this tip sheet!) and “How NOT to Help a Cancer Patient.”

Think of these as resources you could share, text, email, or even print out and post on your hospital door when you’re too overwhelmed to know what to ask for or too tired to explain something for the 100th time to a well-meaning friend. Or, if you have a friend or family member who’s been recently diagnosed, download the guide and get help and ideas about how to be most supportive of them.

This resource will be in PDF format, will be FREE, and I will be openly encouraging people to share it in whatever way is helpful — link to it, copy it, edit it, post it on your own website or blog, in part or in full, etc., — no permission needed. It won’t be mine, it will be yours.

Project #2: The Digital Course: Transforming Trauma into Spiritual Awakening

Not everyone has cancer, but we’ve all experienced emotional difficulty and trauma. The pain caused by experiences like severe illness, divorce, break ups, job loss, financial catastrophes, etc., are universal, and through the sheer fact that we are human, we are guaranteed to be challenged with suffering that rocks us to our very core and makes us question the purpose and meaning in our lives.

But — these experiences need not tear us apart. They can be opportunities for growth and awakening.

I will be creating a digital course, that over a guided 4-6 weeks, will teach specific tools and strategies for getting through the most difficult experiences we face and transforming them into opportunities for personal growth and spiritual awakening.

While not a course on meditation per say, the teachings will derive heavily from meditation and mindfulness practices, as cultivating awareness is a crucial part of the journey.

On that note — in a podcast I did shortly after my diagnosis (with the amazing Valerie Groth of Inspiration with Val - you can see my show notes and podcast here or go straight to my audio here), Valerie asked what coping strategy had most helped me deal with my new diagnosis.

My answer: my meditation practice. While I had not been able to maintain a regular practice after getting diagnosed, and even though I still have not resumed my regular practice, the work I did prior (daily meditation, intensive silent retreats, mindfulness in daily life practices) set me up to be in SUCH a better position to cope with my diagnosis when it happened.

I’ve decided not to limit the course to just dealing with cancer (the suffering cancer causes is universal, anyway), but throughout it I’ll weave my own personal stories and narratives, tying the general lessons to specifics from my own life and cancer journey.

I’ve also given a lot of consideration to how I might price such a thing, and have come up with an option I feel extremely good about it.

To prevent cost from prohibiting this information getting to whomever it might help, while allowing me to get paid a fair price for the work I do, the product will be available in two tiers.

I haven’t worked out the exact details, but it will be something like this: Tier 1 will be the fully-guided digital course, with lessons available in a number of formats (think PDF ebook + audio mp3 downloads for the road + videos + regular reminder emails guiding you along). There will be bonuses and some degree of direct teaching and guidance from me as we move through the material.

Tier 2 will have the same core information but in a limited format (i.e. just the PDF but not audio transcripts, for example) and will require a more motivated student who can pace themselves through the material without my guidance. The Tier 2 option will have a suggested price but will be “pay what you can.” If you can only afford $1, you pay $1.

On the other hand, the Tier 1 version, which will have a higher price point, will allow those who want to super-duper support me, or sponsor someone who couldn’t afford to pay full price, to donate more above the purchase price.

However the specifics get worked out, I will work to ensure that no one is left wishing for what I created but lamenting they can’t pay for it, and those who pay will be getting something special.

A Quick Favor for Project #1: Are you a graphic designer who wouldn’t mind donating a few hours of your time to spruce up the free guide I’m laying out (in a Mac .pages format, but can easily be exported to .doc) into a nice-looking PDF, consistent with the design of my website (colors, fonts, layout etc.)? I’ll happily give you credit in the PDF and link to your website (if you have one), and if this goes well it could turn into paid work when I get started on my digital course. Send me an email and let me know!

A Quick Announcement: I now have a snail mail address! I’ve been meaning to set up a PO box for a while, and I’m finally settled enough in one place to be able to do that.

Please, do not feel any obligation to mail me anything, and I won’t be able to give confirmation when I get things (too much work — if you send something, assume I got it and appreciate it!). I just had enough people asking how they would mail stuff to me that I wanted to set the option up for those who do. You can snail mail me at:

PO Box 620914
Woodside, CA 94062

This address will be available for reference on my Contact page and also linked to in the footer of every email newsletter.

27 Ways to Help Someone With Cancer

As a preview to the material I’m compiling for my super-awesome Cancer PDF Quick-Start Guide, here is one of the tip sheets I will include on small ways you can do something nice for that friend or family member with cancer right now.

Take a look and get some ideas. And even better — if you have suggestions or things to add, tell me in the comments and I will add them to the final Tip Sheet when it gets published!

  1. Deliver a meal. Make sure to ask in advance if they have any dietary restrictions or are following any guidelines. Stay for a visit, or just drop off the food if they’re not up for it.
  2. Deliver a tupperware of several pre-made meals that your friend can heat up as needed.
  3. Send a quick email, text, or message saying you’re thinking of them.
  4. Add “Feel free to take me up on this offer whenever” when you offer help — they’ll know the offer will still be sincere whenever they need it — in a week, a month, a year.
  5. Set a calendar alert reminding you to check in with a quick hello or offer of help on a regular basis.
  6. Text them next time you’re at the grocery store and ask if they’d like you to pick anything up.
  7. Send a housekeeper to clean up their place. Take care of the details so they just need to be there to open the door.
  8. Send a mobile masseuse for a gift massage.
  9. Text them the next time you’re at the drug store to see if they need any toiletries.
  10. Text them the next time you’re at the pharmacy to see if they need any prescriptions picked up.
  11. Add “No need to respond” to the end of your message — they’ll appreciate hearing from you without feeling they need to do anything in return.
  12. Offer to take them out for a coffee or lunch date.
  13. Offer to visit. Make sure to check that they’re feeling up for it.
  14. Offer to take them out to a movie. If they’re too tired, come by with a rental.
  15. Offer a ride to chemo and keep them company during the treatment. Even better, commit to giving a ride on a regular basis throughout their treatments.
  16. Let them know you’re “on call” for emergencies. Mean it.
  17. Send a flower delivery. However, make sure the person isn’t on neutropenic precautions first; fresh flowers can be an infection risk for cancer patients with weakened immune systems. Sadly, I had to give away the many wonderful flower deliveries I got right after my diagnosis.
  18. Order take-out and have it delivered. Ask if they have a favorite restaurant, or if they seem too overwhelmed to make any decisions, just get a sense of their dietary preferences and pick out a nice meal for them.
  19. Gift a magazine or newspaper subscription.
  20. Gift your favorite book.
  21. Tell them you love and care about them. Even if they don’t have the energy to respond, your message means a lot.
  22. For your lady cancer friend, take her out to a nice beauty treatment. Think: manicure/pedicure, facial, makeup application, etc. It may be the first time she’s splurged on her appearance in a while.
  23. Send a card. Make sure it’s legible — cancer eyes are tired eyes :-)
  24. Give an Uber or Lyft gift certificate if you’re not available to offer a ride. I’m a huge fan of Uber and have been using it happily and regularly since my diagnosis.
  25. If you’re a close friend or family member, offer to be a “point” person” where you screen and accept/decline other’s invite and help offers. Right after a diagnosis there are many who want to help and visit and call, but the person with cancer might be extremely overwhelmed and need some space for the time being.
  26. Understand that a cancer patient is likely too overwhelmed to ask what they need; take the initiative by offering specifics instead of saying “Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”
  27. Cancer isn’t contagious — give your buddy a hug to let them know you’re on their side.

Let me know your additions and I’ll see some of you this weekend at WDS!

Comments

  1. Hey there,

    First, thank you for being so bold and sharing so much with your readers. I am going through a difficult time right now and I have noticed that many of the things you point out can be applied for other situations. Just hearing “I’m sorry…I hope it gets better soon” goes a long way. I don’t need friends to fix it and, while empathy is appreciated, I don’t need a pissing contest about how bad they/or someone else has it. I also don’t need to hear what I may have done to cause said issue. Just knowing someone cares and is willing to be there for me is awesome. So thank you.

  2. Hi Elana
    So glad you are so enthusiastic!
    And thank you for the list. I think sometimes people are clumsy about what they say because they don’t know any better. I think your suggestions will make a huge difference! You are helping everyone help their friends and family who have been diagnosed.
    It will really have an impact!
    Thank you immensely and I hope your road to recovery is as short as possible
    Get well
    Stay strong!

  3. I really love reading your blog entries and I am so glad you are feeling alive and inspired again! I have two suggestions for your list:

    one: remember to make offers, help etc, in a few months, when it’s not so new anymore. your friend will still be struggling and once the fanfare dies down, people aren’t there as often for support – logistical or emotional.

    two: don’t always ask for all the details of the current state of your friend’s health. it is exhausting and emotional to talk through what’s going on and what the plan is over and over. better yet, ask if you could be the communications person, so friends can be updated without your friend having to share more than once or so.

    Best to you.

  4. Elana, I Love you! You are just really hitting the nail on the head and your magnificence is truly shining. Thank you!

    On the 26 ways to help: one of my friends coordinated a get together at my house about every other week (Which I could nix, depending on how I felt, by just calling one of my friends who would let the others know )Three of my friends brought yummy, healthy food to eat and then we would sit and meditate together, then eat, sometimes enjoy some wine and laugh – laugh a lot! Sometimes we watched funny movies or you tube videos, then they would all clean my kitchen! It was such a sweet time of getting to connect in person with nearly zero effort. When I got tired, I’d call it a night, even though I usually didn’t want to. One of the most difficult things for me during my treatment was feeling isolated, so my friend really gave me a beautiful gift in arranging opportunities for me to connect in person with my friends.

    The other thing is offering to manage a blog for the person with cancer. Caringbridge.org is a great resource to let people know what is going on during illness and to make requests for needs as they arise. My husband set up the blog that I have (and wrote many of the posts/updates) and many people shared the link with others that I did not have e-mail addresses for or who I had no idea would care or want to know what was going on with me. I loved reading the comments and receiving random things in the cooler we put out on the front porch.

    Have a GREAT time at WDS! I can hardly wait to see the magic you will weave in the process of world domination and living your life!

    Cheryl

  5. Valerie says:

    Hi Elana,

    So glad you are feeling energized again. I just wanted to express how BEAUTIFUL your new pic is; what presence!

    Your new projects are awesome, so inspiring and will be so helpful.

    Have great fun at WDS.

    May you be well; may you know joy.

    NNTR,

    V.

  6. Love reading your post.

    For additional tips,

    Offer to take your friend’s dog for a walk, to the groomers, etc.

    Offer to babysit your friend’s kids, pick them up from school, have them over for a sleepover, etc.

  7. Susan Lucier says:

    So delighted to read today’s journal and see your smile. I am a Cancer Coach (and Patient Navigator). Love today’s 26 Ways to Help (and the additions above). I would add: (1) foot massage (by a masseuse) at Infusion Center (yes, it can be available); (2) non-professional, ‘friend’ foot massages at the home of a cancer patient – as you visit, etc.;(3) using the phrase …’give me a task’ (this offering by a specific friend was a big help for me as I took care of my Father and my brother during their cancer journeys. I would ask her to do my laundry, pick up groceries, no socializing necessary …godsend when exhausted.)

    So enjoy your connection with us.

  8. Janice Liu says:

    Hi Elana,

    Greetings from Singapore!

    I’ve started reading your blog right at the time when you were getting diagnosed. At that time I was googling on blogs and hopefully to get some advice on how I can manage myself emotionally while helping out my boyfriend who is suffering from depression.

    I considered myself a caring girlfriend but I just always (like really!) said the wrong thing at the wrong time. I believe the tips you’ve been given out for the last few posts (including this one) have definitely helped many others out there to say or do the right thing to their loved ones who are suffering from physical or mental illness.

    btw – I’m thinking if you can have some potential partnership with Uber as you’re a loyal customer of them – share your personal story with them and tell them how Uber played an important part in your daily life since your diagnosis with cancer – Uber is expanding their business actively in many Asian countries and I believe they’ll need to do more marketing campaign to support their business growth.

    Anyway, just wanted to leave you a message here and so you know you’ve expanded your readers’ network to Asia! :)

    Keep it up and enjoy WDS!

    Janice

  9. Offer to help your friend with the garden. My neighbor did all of the hard work so I could have a garden this year and I know of other cancer patients who found it very helpful to have friends water their gardens.

  10. Hi Elana,

    Just sending a possible other suggestion to your list to include text/email silly corny short joke and photos.

    Cheers,
    Janet

  11. You look incredibly beautiful… So happy to hear you are well on your way to recovery…

  12. Shoshana Simon says:

    Don’t forget distribution to caretakers, social workers, hospitals, etc. Leave space at the bottom for personal info. Ask for design/printing/photo help as there are nonprofits and volunteers who will help do the work.

  13. Nature is healing. Have someone take you for a gentle walk (preferably by a body of water) where you can feel the wind and sun, smell the trees, grass, moisture in the air, hear birds, see natures color palette, and get the blood flowing.
    When I was sick my husband did this for me and it fed my soul (I live in city neighboring where you are living now so you get how fortunate I am to be surrounded by natures bounty).
    The garden help was also a great suggestion, was done for me.

    You look authentically happy Elana.

  14. Susan Lucier says:

    I ‘wrote’ earlier (Cancer Coach and Patient Navigator) but failed to mention that your blog will be part of my arsenal of referrals for clients. Thank you for your gift of transparency and energy you give to other patients, survivors and caregivers. S

  15. Barbara says:

    I think one important thought is missing. It’s not only about giving and helping the sick person and do something for him/her. It’s very gratifying and an intensive experience for the helping person as well.
    A couple of years ago a neighbor got cancer, we weren’t very close at that time, only our kids were of same age. I will spare you all the details, but we slowly got closer after I offered my help. One day she gave me a book to learn how to deal with the different stages of her cancer, we developed an amazing synergy in going together through this ordeal. We celebrated little victories and complained about doctors who weren’t supportive enough. She knew that I was always there for her and she gave me the feeling that I helped her in some difficult situations. Now we are very close friends. And this experience changed me and my view on life too.

  16. Glad to see that sparkle in your eyes!!

    Hugs!!

  17. as someone who has been a cancer patient for almost a year and still in treatment i think the list is awesome – thank you. maybe add to 13. something like “When you are visiting offer to just sit and read or have quiet time. Your presence is the most nourishing and often questions and conversation can be taxing.”

    love seeing that smile on your face

    i have someone who can do the graphic design if you still need – lmk!

  18. Have a great time at the World Domination Summit. It looks like a fantastic event. And btw I was raised in Burlingame, Calif close to where you are now but I have been an Oregonian for most of my adult life after graduating from U of O in Eugene. Portland is a fantastic city as you probably already know. Really hot up here right now so be prepared for that!!
    Looking forward to hearing about some of the speakers and highlights from the event.
    So glad you are felling better!
    k

  19. Not just taking my daighter to keep her occupied, but also taking my daughter when she was SICK, and keeping her until she was not longer contagious, was huge. This way she was cared for, not neglected, and and I didn’t have to remind her to stay away.

    Also, don’t disappear when your patient feels better. As soon as I posted good pictures and comments, everyone vanished. It left me lonely and confused. Also, don’t underestimate even an hour once a month…if that’s all you have, share it! Those short visits kept me feeling human when that was a hard sell….

    And the corollary to the last statement: when the cancer person says they are better, go with it. Don’t remind them how sick they are, or were. Don’t be the “realist.” I am in remission and even the doctors seems to want me to be sick again….take your cues from the patient!

    And Elana, you looke amazing and I really do know about the shift you’ve experienced–go with it. I’d love to talk with you if the occasion arises, have been walking a similar path (and am the daughter of a psychoanalyst /Taoist minister). Coming from the Ashkenazi “Notgudenov” (read it aloud) clan, I can tell you you HAVE to see yourself as the gift you are. We see your bright inner spirit, not the struggling body.

    Peace, from a fellow warrior,
    Justine

  20. Oh, and I would credit meditation (in my case, Transcentdental Meditation) as being one of the biggest factors in my remission. Meditating freely ( when I didn’t feel up to talking, being up or even thinking) was one of the most consistent and positive things I did for myself throughout cancer treatment.

  21. Offer to take their kids for a playdate, have an actual plan, and don’t require that they come. Don’t complain to other friends about.not getting a tha k you card, it will get back to the cancer fighter and make her feel bad.

  22. Heidi P. says:

    With your permission, I’d like to make hand outs of your 27 ways to put in my hospital library’s consumer health section. (I’m a hospital librarian and we get a lot of requests for cancer information)

  23. Hi Elana – Your 27 ways to help a cancer patient were spot on, and others have given you excellent suggestions. One thing I would have appreciated: offer to come over and make a meal. I had a number of food prep restrictions and bringing me take out food from a restaurant wasn’t possible for the first three months. I had family members cook for me and when I was up to it, I cooked for myself. But having a friend come over and cook would have been a great change of pace. There’s something about hanging out in the kitchen that spells comfort for me.

    Wishing you a speedy recovery!

    ~ L

  24. Kendra Downey says:

    Give an already “loaded” iPod to your friend with cancer… first find out the kind of music she or he likes than “load up” an iPod with the music or the book or the podcasts they might like. They can listen to it during Chemo or when they need to escape. There’s a new (film) documentary out called “Alive Inside” which shows the power and healing quality of music, I’ve done this for older people who have never used an iPod before and they LOVED it…especially when I loaded the iPod with music from their youth…like 40′s dance band music…

  25. Hi. I have a few suggestions. My wife is 38 and has Been fighting stage 4 ovarian cancer for 5 years and we have two young kids.

    1. Offer to be the organizer of help. Tell your friend that you’d like to organize a calendar and be point person. Tell your friend you are coming over with a blank calendar and if he/she says they don’t want to burden anyone, leave the calendar and touch base/text to come over again soon.

    2. I would remove the lady friends comment bc not all ladies want make-up, etc

    3. Offer to come once a week to help for a few hours with laundry.

    4. If your friend has young kids, offer to have a weekly evening where you are an extra hand.

    Hope these help.

  26. Help the caretaker! Currently I am doing laundry each week for my sister-in-law while she cares for her husband round the clock who is terminally ill.

  27. For 1 and 2, collapse into: organizing a meal sign up online (people can send take out or home cooked). Offer to set up Caring Bridge website; “Action Points” and “Talking Points” also, Free Cancer Guide/Cancer Free Guide–but a little stumped on what’s better: How to Talk Back to Cancer. Your parents garden looks so beautiful as do you.

  28. sandy fobb says:

    Hi Elana
    when I am sick I feel terribly guilty about neglecting my kids and animals . For a loved one who is chronically ill I would definitely take the kids for an outing on a regular basis , just for fun or for something they need , and/or take their pet for a walk , bathe them , take them to the vet or groomer . If it were me this would take a load off my mind . Many blessings , you are doing a very good thing here !

  29. List is fantastic, just a few suggestions based on my ovarian cancer work:
    1) send random cards – once a week, twice a week, etc. Pick me up, make you smile sort of cards. Not hope you’re feeling better, just “make me smile” sort of cards. Not the same but I sent cards to my brother while in Iraq once a week just so he knew he was always in my thoughts.
    2) offer to surf the net for cancer “freebies”; there are tons. it is however exhausting to sit for hours and search for them. I have tons! From hats, to scarves, to house cleaning, totes, etc.
    3) offer to coordinate mealtrain or takethemameal .com for families during treatment

    Can’t wait for the final product to add to my “arsenol”. Stay strong!

  30. For the list of suggestions for cancer patient : If they have young children, offer to take/ pick them up from school, sports practices & games, have them over for a play date or outing, babysit

  31. Barbara Snow says:

    When my dear friend was at MD Anderson undergoing treatment for lymphoma, I found a wonderful company that delivered chicken noodle soup (and other things for a price). It was called Spoonful of Comfort and I only mention it because for those of us who are hundreds of miles away from a loved one dealing with cancer, you want to do more than just send cards or emails. You want to make it a little easier for them. I’m sure there might be other companies that deliver food but this one was started by a woman in response to her mother undergoing cancer treatment and my friend loved the soup. Just a thought.
    And on another note – it fills my heart with joy to read your posts these days and even though you’re in the hospital, the shift in your mood and spirit gives me hope for you. You’re such a fighter. Blessings beamed to you from far away.
    Barb in Minnesota

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