No one expects a cancer diagnosis, especially not for their child. When cancer shows its ugly face, it comes like a thief in the night, stealing the normalcy the family once enjoyed. Instead of spending time in the carpool line, at playdates, or friends’ birthday parties, these families are spending time in hospital rooms, helping their child cope with the side effects of chemotherapy, and weighing life or death treatment decisions. After spending time with many families who have walked this journey, I can tell you the one thing that nearly every parent of a sick child has said: that the care and support of their friends and family during their difficult time made a world of difference to them. What you do to care for these families really does matter, and they will remember it for the rest of their lives.
What’s difficult, though, for those of us who haven’t experienced life with a seriously ill child, is knowing exactly how to help. We don’t want to intrude or become yet another burden on the family. We don’t know what they need or want. We’re not even sure what to say and what not to say. Sometimes, despite our best intentions, we stay away- not because we don’t care, but because we’re just not sure how to navigate the situation.
I’ve asked a few friends who have lived through these experiences and some caregivers who help families throughout their hospital stay to offer some ideas of ways you can help.
If you know a family that has a child being treated for cancer, here are some practical ways you can make their lives a little easier.
- Cook dinner for the family and bring it to the hospital or their home
- Pick up medications from the pharmacy
- Give a gift card to purchase gas to offset travel expenses to and from hospital
- Feed or walk their pets
- Mow their lawn
- Offer to drive siblings to school or activities
- Give a gift card for the hospital cafeteria
- Give a gift card for restaurants near the hospital
- Take siblings for a playdate or fun activity
- Organize a fundraiser
- Ask the child’s school to make “get well” cards or letters
- Send games, movies or books that can entertain the child in the hospital
And perhaps the most important advice of all? Just do it.
Don’t sit and wait for the family to ask you. And please, whatever you do, don’t say, “Call me if you need anything.” Why? Because they probably won’t call. These families are likely overwhelmed, exhausted and simply managing the best they can from moment to moment. Don’t place the burden on them to reach out to you. Just take the plunge and help them out. They’ll be glad you did, and you will, too.