A global pandemic is stressful for anyone, but evermore stressful to families and individuals that are battling cancer. It's hard to know how to help cancer patients on a normal day, but now that social distancing is being enacted, it's even harder to be there for them.
So, we've come up with five ways to help cancer patients during this coronavirus pandemic—all while maintaining a safe distance. Before we get into it, I want to preface this by saying that the most important thing you can do to help is to ask first.
Make sure that your help is welcome, because it may not be. That may not be the case — but they could have a specific list of needs, and will want practical, as opposed to creative gifts. They may not.
But asking first will allow you to gift them what they really want and need. With that said, let's get into it.
1. Homemade meals may not be the best idea right now...
Typically, gifting a cancer patient or caregiver with a homemade meal would make an excellent gift. But right now, a homemade meal may put some people on edge.
Not only that, meals are often what people think to provide families with first. They may already be overwhelmed with uneaten dishes. This isn't to say 'NO' to homemade meals—just ask first.
They may even have specific dietary restrictions, too. So be sure to check in and see what would be helpful to them.
There are other ways to gift them with meals, if they are in need.
You could gift them canned goods or frozen meals as an alternative to cooking something. Or maybe you could gift a patient with a subscription to a meal delivery service.
Here is a list of some food subscription services: https://www.top10.com/meal-delivery/top-reads/the-best-prepared-meal-delivery-services
You could also ask if they would like an UberEats gift card, or a gift card to one of their favorite restaurants they’d like to support (or miss supporting) too.
2. Offer to run errands
It's best that cancer patients avoid going out right now—so it may be a huge relief to them and their caregivers for you to pick up their groceries.
Just be sure to check and make sure if that's alright. It's possible the patient or their caregiver isn't worried about going out and are confident that they're taking all the right precautions.
Maybe they're an extrovert that loves their grocery store time because it's the only excuse they have to get out of the house right now. Just make sure.
3. Create a 'quarantine advent calendar' or care package
I've seen this thing going around lately where you create some kind of 'quarantine advent calendar' for your friend including either a gift or letter for them to open each day for any X number of days.
If this sounds like something you'd like to put together, I'm sure it would be much appreciated by your friend. It could be their source of excitement as they wake up that day, ready to read what you've written or unwrap what gift you've given.
But maybe you aren't that close, and a simple care package seems more appropriate. Either way, here are some resources to help you assemble your advent calendar or care package:
For practical presents: https://share.upmc.com/2017/10/cancer-care-packages/
For books, since quarantine may be a great time to read: https://mycanplan.com/blogs/canplan/5-best-books-every-cancer-patient-should-have-on-their-bookshelf
You may want to buy these at pharmacies and grocery stores, rather than online. You've probably heard by now that amazon's deliveries are running a month behind, and most other sites aren't doing much better.
4. Skype them or send them a letter to show support
Skype, FaceTime, simple phone calls... whatever they do. Just connect with them. Let them know you're still there... even though you can't physically be there.
If you can, let them steer the conversation. Allow for them to be sad and open up about the struggles of isolation getting evermore isolating.
Getting cancer might have already made them feel like an outsider, and now that their friends and possibly much of their family can't get within 6 feet of them? That's hard. So hard.
Maybe hearing about that makes you uncomfortable, but try your best to embrace the discomfort. If it's too emotionally pressing, you could always write a letter.
I received a hand- written letter from a friend this week, and it was the sweetest thing. It's such a rare thing to receive these days, and at times writing allows for two people to connect on a deeper emotional level, so try it out.
Connecting with them doesn't have to be heavy, either. Sometimes laughter is the best medicine, and they may just want to talk about nonsense or even play a game with you. (Pictionary and charades can work really well on skype, if they are able to play them).
5. Help them start a blog/ connect them to an online group
When my mom was the primary caregiver to my grandfather, she'd wished she had an online group to help her out. I've heard cancer patients swear by how helpful blogs and online groups can be—even before isolation. And nowadays, Reddit is littered with people longing for kindred spirits during social- distancing.
You are just one friend, and though you are probably very treasured, you don't have all the answers. But you could point them to people who might.
Cancer patients and caregivers may feel too stressed to focus on researching online forums or creating a cancer blog right now. But if they wanted, you could do it for them.
I've known many cancer patients that have created Facebook or WordPress blogs to allow their friends and families to follow along with their journey. It's also opened the door for them to connect with other cancer patients that can empathize with them on a deep level.
You could start up that blog for them—or if they are more interested in just joining an online group, you could scout online to find them the perfect fit.
Here is the CanPlan facebook group to get the ball rolling: https://www.facebook.com/groups/CanPlanFam/?source_id=1547092065561323
Here are other ideas to help out your friends with cancer (though it was written pre- coronavirus) https://www.mskcc.org/blog/10-tips-supporting-friend
I hope you found these tips helpful and have found more inspiration to help out your friend or family member with the cancer and coronavirus battle.
Best wishes and blessings,