Three out of four families will see a loved one diagnosed with cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
Any cancer diagnosis is difficult for a family member to process, but a terminal diagnosis can be especially devastating.
September 26 is Mesothelioma Awareness Day, a time to reflect on those battling this aggressive cancer, remember the lives lost to the asbestos-related disease, and raise awareness for more funding and research.
If you know someone affected by this rare cancer, you may be wondering what you can do to help. When a loved one is battling mesothelioma, it is normal for friends and family to feel helpless and unsure of what to say or do.
Every situation is unique. A person diagnosed with cancer might be experiencing a range of emotions such as anger, fear, guilt, isolation or grief. While one patient may want someone to talk to, others may want to be left alone.
Support comes in many ways. You could offer to be the person’s full-time caregiver or simply give them a card or gift to let them know you’re thinking of them.
The most important thing you can do is be open and honest with the person when offering support. This will allow you to find out what they need and ways you can lend a hand.
Here are some tips you may consider:
This can mean several things. The point person could be the central figure in the patient’s life (sometimes the primary caregiver) who coordinates volunteer efforts such as meal delivery, errands and appointment schedules. This role could also be a point of contact between the patient and others to spread news and updates with extended family and friends. This frees the patient and their caregiver from fielding countless phone calls and text messages from concerned loved ones. There are tools available online to help with this, including CaringBridge and Lotsa Helping Hands.
Research on Their Behalf
Researching any cancer — especially a rare one such as mesothelioma — can be overwhelming. By offering to research on a patient’s behalf, you can free up a lot of time and ease frustrations. Search for available clinical trials, find a mesothelioma specialist, look up available financial assistance and research caregiving tips. Hours of research can be condensed into an easy reference guide for the patient and their caregiver. Since most research is done online, this is a great way for out-of-state family members to help.
Between appointments, cancer treatments and the daily stresses that come with a mesothelioma diagnosis, patients and caregivers often don’t have the time for everyday chores. Lend a hand by offering to come over and clean the house, do laundry, take out the trash or help with yard work. Running errands can also be helpful. Offer to pick up medications, drive the patient to their appointments or pick up their dry cleaning. Nutrition is essential for cancer patients, so you could consider grocery shopping for them and meal prepping for the week.
The best way to help is to first ask what the patient needs. This can change daily. It could be something as simple as returning a library book or something more time intensive such as pet-sitting. If you want to give a gift, consider the patient’s interests and offer something they will find useful and enjoyable. If you can’t travel to see your loved one in person, offer to pay for meal delivery and cleaning services. Just be sure to check with the patient first.
Sometimes listening goes a long way. Whether it’s in person or over the phone, let your loved one know you’re available to tune in and listen to their concerns or worries. Let the person lead the conversation. Be a shoulder to cry on, and only give advice or opinions if prompted. Listening well is an important part of providing emotional support.
Sometimes, escaping the stresses of treatment and the diagnosis is what a mesothelioma patient needs. Offer to watch TV with them or play a board game. If they are physically up to it, take them to a local park or a movie. The more you help your loved one return to life before cancer, the more it helps them cope with their illness.
Remember, help should be individualized. Not all mesothelioma patients are dealing with the same emotions, physical limitations or daily hurdles.
Never assume you know what’s best for a loved one battling cancer. Always ask for permission before doing anything that might be intrusive such as showing up uninvited or scheduling a cleaning service without approval.
Ask them what they need and for guidance when helping. This will ensure you make their life a little easier and brighter.