5 thoughtful, personalized ways to make a cancer patient feel loved
You may already know that people tend to feel loved best when friends and family show affection in the ways that they find the most meaningful. Some prefer compliments or time spent together, while others like small gifts, gentle touches or having things done for them.
But how do you honor these personal preferences while still offering useful support to someone in cancer treatment? We checked in with senior social work counselor Vanessa Garcia. Here’s what she suggested.
The power of an encouraging word
HPV-relatedtonsil-cancer survivor Jeff Deatsman says he found inspiration from a friend’s daily sports-related texts. But other ways of supporting cancer patients who appreciate verbal encouragement might include:
Leaving a voicemail to let someone know you’re thinking of them
Mailing a handwritten card
Texting an uplifting video
“For patients who are going through a hard time, that one word or sentence can give them the boost they need to make it through the day,” says Garcia. “Sometimes, just knowing someone cares about you is enough to give you strength.”
Practical ways to be of service
Trying to come up with a list of things for other people to do can be exhausting, especially if you’re already feeling worn out from cancer treatments. So, for patients who appreciate having things done for them, consider the chores or tasks that you might not feel up to if you were really sick and then offer to do them. Good options might include:
Washing a few loads of laundry or mowing the lawn
Handling the grocery shopping that week or having the groceries delivered
Preparing a meal and then dropping it off at their home
Taking the kids to soccer practice or piano lessons
Walking the dog or taking the cat to the vet for a check-up
“Whatever it is you’re offering, make it practical and specific,” says Garcia. “Suggesting something concrete is much more helpful than saying, ‘Let me know if you need anything.’”
Gifts that warm the heart, foster creativity or just make life easier
Some patients don’t have family living nearby or friends they feel comfortable enough with to request help with chores like cooking or housecleaning. If someone feels particularly appreciated when others buy them gifts, though, you could send them:
Gift cards for a food delivery service
Vouchers from a professional cleaning service
Or, if they prefer small, tangible tokens of affection, you could try:
A pretty pen, a cute lap desk and a journal to write in
A framed picture of cherished pets or loved ones
“A lot of times, cancer patients are too tired to prepare meals or do housework after radiation therapy or chemotherapy,” notes Garcia. “So, prepaid services can help them feel good or just better about being in their own spaces. And, giving people opportunities for creativity or reminders of their loved ones can make them feel happier and reduce their stress levels.”
Time and undivided attention
For some people, nothing is more meaningful than time spent with others. So, invite those patients out to a local coffee shop, restaurant or public park, then very deliberately put away your phone before visiting so that they know they’ll have your undivided attention.
“And don’t assume everyone wants to talk about their diagnosis,” cautions Garcia. “Obviously, cancer is never going to be far from a patient’s thoughts. But they might wish to use their time with you to take their minds off of it completely. So, honor that, and let them guide the conversation. Your time is the gift.”
Creature comforts for the touchy-feely
Many breast cancer survivors, like Uniqua Smith, Ph.D., report that hugging is no longer comfortable after having a mastectomy or receiving breast implants. So, don’t swoop down to embrace anyone without asking them if it’s OK first, even if you know that they normally enjoy physical affection.
People who like to be touched but can’t be — or just don’t want to be right now — for whatever reason, might appreciate a snuggly blanket, a soft hat or cozy pajamas instead.
“A good rule of thumb is never to touch anyone without asking first,” notes Garcia. “But after chemo, a lot of patients tend to feel cold more easily. So, soft things that remind them of you and also feel good against their skin might be both soothing and comforting.”
The key to success? Making it personal
Regardless of how you choose to express love to a cancer patient, the best way to make sure it’s well-received is to personalize it.
“So, if you have any doubts about whether someone would like something, ask,” says Garcia. “If your goal is to make them feel loved, seeking information is never a bad thing.”