These cancer tips for family, friends, and co-workers were written by our co-founder, Chris McHugh, who was diagnosed with late-stage inflammatory breast cancer in 1997. At the young age of 34, she was given 18 months to live, but her journey lasted nearly 6 years. She made it her mission to provide support, raise awareness, and educate others.
Living with Cancer
During her treatment, Chris went through well over 100 rounds of chemo, a bilateral mastectomy, a bone marrow transplant, 6+ weeks of radiation and 42 days of IL2 injections.
She didn’t waste a minute of the life she was given; she made memories with family and friends, she taught the medical profession the symptoms of IBC so no other woman would go undiagnosed, she worked with lawmakers to ensure new drugs were made available, and she always made time to provide support for others who were newly diagnosed.
Chris was well acquainted with all the ins and outs of cancer treatment, and therefore, she felt it was important to offer her hard-earned advice to others. She wrote these tips for friends, family, and co-workers on how to help someone going through the cancer journey.
Helpful Tips for Family, Friends, and Co-Workers
1. Sometimes flowers aren’t the best. Patient’s immune systems may be compromised and living plants, flowers, and Spanish moss are not allowed. Look for alternative ways to say you care. Choose Hope, Inc. (1-888-348-HOPE or www.choosehope. com) has perfect gifts designed by patients for patients.
2. A “Healing Hands” shirt is a great way to show team support. Gather friends, family, co-workers or even pets together. Using fabric paint, have everyone place their handprints (or paw prints) on a T-shirt, sweatshirt, or a denim shirt. Personalization can be added by each print with a sharpie or laundry marker. A perfect way for the patient to be surrounded by their loved ones on treatment days.
3. Losing hair is a hard thing…no doubt about it! Have a hat party and invite your friends to each wear a hat, party hardy, and leave the hat for your friend. Hats should range from unique to practical.
4. Keeping in touch is important. Send cards, notes, banners, kids drawings, or any message of hope to show you care. I found receiving get well cards with the message “while you recover” to be very important in my healing.
5. Remember the family with food and treats. Find out family dietary needs and have one person schedule meals. Supply a meal approximately every three days. It was great to have my kids jump in bed with me and be able to offer them a homemade treat.
6. Gift certificates to area fast food/restaurants surrounding the patient’s clinic and hospital are very helpful.
7. Pretty new P.J.’s with front opening for IV access is essential. Throw in a pair of fuzzy slippers for added fun.
8. Cash is always helpful for miscellaneous family needs.
9. Themed gift boxes or baskets for the family are a great idea. For example, a movie basket filled with videos, video coupons, rootbeer, candy, popcorn, etc.is always fun.
10. Arrange for help with laundry and housecleaning. Church groups or service groups are always willing to help when needed. Your friend’s job right now is to heal, not to be overwhelmed by day-to-day household chores.
11. Throw a surprise slumber party! Make a date with your friend even if she is too tired to go out. Show up in jammies, cold cream, and curlers. Insist she does the same. Sweep her off to a friends house where you will eat junk food, play board games, and share laughs.
12. Seek out positive survivor stories and share them often with your friend. She/he needs to know that 8 million Americans are LIVING with cancer today.
13. Don’t assume the family needs or wants to be alone. Short visits can take the family’s mind off of everyday stress. Share laughs and make wonderful memories.
14. Stay connected. Nothing bothered me more than when I would hear “I kept tabs on you through so-and-so because I just didn’t know what to say”. Remember simply saying “I’m here and I care” is better than nothing at all.
Although Chris passed away in 2003, she leaves the legacy of her timeless tips for surviving chemotherapy, helpful for everyone going through treatment. Throughout her cancer journey, she played many roles including a caregiver, an advocate, and family and friends to those going through their own cancer journey, and wrote tips for each.
The links below provide tips specific to each role in a print-friendly version for your convenience.