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Making a cancer patient smile and feel happy with a random act of kindness could mean more to them than you think.
If you have a friend or family member who is battling cancer — or maybe you’re a healthcare professional who works with cancer patients — here are five acts of kindness that can make their day.
1. Listen With the Intent to Understand
It’s the little things that are most meaningful sometimes, such as lending an ear. If you don’t know how to start the conversation, you can say that, too. It’s fine to admit that “This is difficult. I don’t know what to say, but I am here to listen.” Once you start talking and become more comfortable, remember to ask thoughtful questions about their experience and actually listen to their answers.
2. Acknowledge That He or She is More Than Their Cancer
It may help to treat someone with cancer like a normal human being; not as a helpless person plagued by a life-threatening disease. Asking about their diagnosis and treatment shows your concern; however, ensure that your conversation naturally shifts to other topics of interest. He or she is more than their disease.
3. Offer to Help With a Specific Task
Telling someone with cancer, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help,” almost always ends with “No, thank you.” It may be more helpful to offer specific assistance. For example:
- Offer to prepare delicious, cancer-fighting recipes
- Ask if they want you to pick up groceries or buy medicine
- Give them a ride to and from treatments or doctor’s appointments
- Help with chores around the house: clean, do yard work, pet sit, etc.
- Offer to keep them company during follow-up appointments and help take down important notes
You may need to offer multiple times before they warm up to the idea of accepting your help. Gentle persistence and patience are necessary from your end.
4. Help Navigate Hair Loss
Most women have a difficult time when their hair starts falling out. All of a sudden, there is this visible symbol of how no control they have over their health and body. Suddenly, they can no longer hide their cancer diagnosis from the world.
You don’t have to do something drastic like shaving your head. Instead, find ways to help your loved one feel comfortable with their new look. Try introducing them to beautiful headscarves, wigs, or maybe even a sparkling new pair of earrings. According to The Oxford Handbook of the Psychology of Appearance, clothes, colors, makeup, and jewelry may help distract people from hair loss.
5. Don’t Expect Them to Be Strong 24/7
Saying “you’re so brave,” and “you’re so inspiring,” can be motivating to a person with cancer. But in our attempt to be supportive, we may put unwanted pressure on them. Though affirmations are important, they can also make a cancer patient reluctant to be vulnerable, as if they need to be strong all the time.
Balance your uplifting comments by reassuring them that it is 100 percent okay to be negative, silent, or withdrawn if that’s how they really feel. And if they do feel glum, go back to advice #1 and start listening. Remember, a single act of kindness may change someone’s entire day. Being kind may even improve your own health.