No offense, but having cancer is bad enough. Having to eat an endless parade of frozen casseroles while you navigate your newly diagnosed life is even worse. Sure, it’s the thought that counts and your “cancer friend” appreciates any and all indication of support, but wouldn’t you rather get them something that they could actually enjoy while they muddle through the murky waters of treatment and healing?
Well, this cancer patient has your back with a definitive list of ten things your friend with cancer will love you for showing up with:
1. Grocery Delivery Service
While it is helpful to have people show up with food (warm or frozen), what is even better is being able to order what you would like for yourself and having it delivered at a time that is the most convenient to you. Lots of cancer treatments and drugs cause wonky taste buds, nausea, and uncertain stomachs, so being able to order what sounds yummiest to you that day is a huge bonus. People going through treatment have got to eat to keep their energy up, so being able to satisfy any type of craving will ensure that they are getting the food they like and the nutrients they need. Shipt is a great option here in Birmingham. They’ve got a $99 12-month membership plan and a $49 6-month membership, which is probably less than you would spend on a one-time dinner for an entire family. Bonus points that they were bought by Target recently and you can get Target goodies delivered same day as well. Delivery of groceries and household goods is also a great way to avoid the influx of germs you would come in contact with in a public place while your immune system is compromised during treatment. And let’s face it: some days your friend just plain won’t feel like going anywhere, so this gift works on lots of different levels.
There’s a lot of down time when you’ve got cancer — both emotionally and physically. While I am a strong advocate for getting up and moving around as much as possible while you’re on the cancer trail, rest is a vital part of helping your body heal, and Netflix was built for the escape you need when you want to tune out a less-than-stellar day. A subscription will cost you less than $15/month and your friend will even be able to use it while they’re at the hospital for their long days of appointments and treatments and waiting room stints. What’s even better is that Netflix is known for their comedy specials and who doesn’t need a laugh when you’ve got The Cancer?
3. Comfy Jammies
Your body is going to do weird things as you fight the demon that is cancer, and there’s nothing better than a nice pair of pajamas to crawl into after a long day of being a warrior. Nice pajamas are a luxury most people don’t indulge in, so if you go the extra mile and splurge for your friend, it will be a gift that keeps on giving. I got a pair of J.Crew pajamas right after I was diagnosed and not only are they incredibly soft and over-the-top wonderful, but every time I put them on I think of my friend Laura who went outside of the box to make me feel special right after I was diagnosed. Might I add the Lake Pajama nightgowns are an awesome option as well because lots of patients get a steroid with their chemotherapy or radiation that makes sleeping a sweaty experience every night.
4. A Rockstar Hair Stylist Appointment
This one is a sensitive topic but so important to consider as your friend comes to grips with possibly losing their hair. When I was diagnosed, I decided to cut my long, blonde hair short to reduce the shock factor for my kids when I went completely bald. My rockstar hair stylist Clint suggested I bring my family and girlfriends along for the big cut, and I am so glad I did. We got seventeen ponytails out of my golden mane of hair that night, but sharing that moment with people who really loved me was powerful. I went back to Clint at The Style Bar two weeks after my first chemo treatment, when my short hair started falling out in earnest, and he held my hand as he shaved my head. There are not going to be many more intimate moments than that in my life and I am so thankful I had a stylist who was sensitive to the deeper message going on. Consider calling a salon and explaining the sensitive situation and booking your friend an appointment with a stylist that is upbeat but empathetic. Make it party. Bring champagne. Play music. Have fun! Reality is perception, and making the “unfun” a celebration will lift the cloud. Cancer tip: I think shaving my head instead of letting my hair fall out completely on its own helped it grow back faster.
5. Gift Cards for Restaurants Close to the Hospital
The day of my first oncology team meeting, I was at the hospital for close to ten hours. The days I have treatment, I’m there for four, sometimes six, hours. The morning I went in for my lumpectomy, I had to be there at 5:00 a.m.. They are long days, and many meals revolve around something quick to eat between appointments and scans. Do a little research about what restaurants are within a five-minute walk of the hospital and purchase gift cards for them. These are also great for the patient’s family since sometimes they’ll be going to get the food or may need it themselves while they wait for their loved one to become available.
6. Photography Session
Right before I started treatment, I had my good friend Maggie Burnett Photography come and take some family photos. You become so acutely aware of what’s important once you’re diagnosed, and to be morbidly honest, you’re acutely aware of your mortality, too. So documenting my intense love for my littles was very important to me. Plus, we as moms are never in the picture, so it was nice to have that moment captured. I would also encourage you to offer photos while your friend is actually in treatment. Chemo makes you puffy, takes your hair, and makes you feel like a stranger in your own body while you’re going through it, but it’s a time worthy of documentation because you will never feel more like a warrior than you do in that season.
7. Cold Treats
I scream, you scream, cancer patients LOVE ice cream (or any cold treat). Several of the chemotherapy drugs strip the inside of your mouth, throat, and tongue and cause ulcers. Radiation can cause actual burns on your body. And remember I mentioned that the steroids can make you a sweaty mess? So, stocking your friend’s freezer with their favorite cold treats will make you a hero.
8. A Date Night
People always ask me how Bobby is handling “things” when they check in on us, and while he has been an absolute rock through the entire ordeal, I know having to take care of all the kids’ needs on treatment days or paying the six millionth insurance bill has to wear on him. Arranging for your friend to reconnect with their spouse over dinner and a movie will do wonders for their spirit and their family as a whole. Feeling “normal” again by being out alone, just the two of them, will be medicine for their souls. So many things change when you get diagnosed, and being able to give your friend something to look forward to, get dressed up for, and force them out of the house will do them a world of good. Go one of two routes: 1) offer babysitting services for a specific date since makes it harder for them to say no if you’ve done the thinking for them (If you’re not the babysitting type, use a service like Wyndy to secure a certified babysitter) or 2) plan (and pay for) the date for them. Fandango lets you purchase tickets online and almost every restaurant has gift cards available. It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. Trust me, they will just be grateful for a respite from their everyday life.
9. A Co-pay
I remember walking into a chemo appointment not too long ago with my debit card ready to pay my $50 co-pay to see the doctor. The sweet girl announced, “Looks like your co-pay has already been taken care of for today.” Stunned, I asked, “Who? How?” She explained that a friend who wished to remain anonymous had called earlier and asked to take care of it. I felt like I had won the lottery. That $50 made me feel like a million bucks because someone had thought enough of me to call ahead and make my day easier. Look. The financial burden of this kind of thing is overwhelming. So on top of fighting to survive, you’re also fighting feelings of guilt and fear when the medical bills start piling up. You may not be able to pay for a CT scan or a surgery, but know that every little bit helps.
10. Cleaning Service
Listen, cancer or no cancer, I would rather make my own dinner than clean my toilets or baseboards any day of the week. Your friend may be different, but paying for a cleaning service (especially while they are actively in treatment) is helpful for a lot of reasons. First of all, a clean house means less germs. Especially for those with small kids, keeping things disinfected will reduce the chance of catching something while their immune system is depleted. The second reason is that a clean house means more time with their loved ones, and quality time with the family will be at the top of their priority list. The third reason is that a clean house means a break for the spouse as well, which will be much appreciated. The last thing is that a clean house reduces chaos, and a calm and collected home will do wonders for a racing mind.
Most of the things on this list are approximately the cost of providing a dinner for four people. But I know everybody’s budget is different, so if something sounds like a good idea but may be out of your price range, consider finding another friend and go in on something meaningful together. Take the time to be intentional with your resources because more than anything, your friend with cancer wants to know that you still recognize them as the person they were before cancer. You know their likes and understand their needs as your friend. Not as a cancer patient. Normalcy and encouragement are the currency of a happy patient. The person you love may be going through a battle, but they are still the same person underneath all that armor. Show them you know that to be true by making sure your gift echoes and honors the relationship the two of you have. You can’t go wrong when you use that rule.