Ovarian cancer. It’s not what any woman wants to hear as their diagnosis.
Because of its subtle symptoms and less than favorable (but climbing) survival rates, being told you have ovarian cancer can immediately feel hopeless.
For those of us as who are care partners, the desire to help can only be matched by our frustrations of not being able to cure or “fix” our loved ones. We may feel less than productive. Even though we can’t wave a magic wand and fix what hurts those we love, there are incredibly positive and powerful ways we can give back and aid them, even throughout the darkest moments.
After my best friend received her diagnosis of ovarian cancer, she told me of the many gestures and acts of kindness from friends, coworkers, and neighbors that helped her the most. I’m blessed she shared them with me as it helped me better understand the most effective and positive ways to better care for her as well as others diagnosed with cancer after she was.1) Be present
. Know that a cancer diagnosis changes not only a person’s sense of self, but their entire world. Social circles immediately shrink at work, at school, and within friends and family. If you’ve been a friend, continue to be. 2) What do you need?
Many times people will offer help in the form of “call me if you need anything.” Guess what? Most people won’t call, especially those who’ve been given a diagnosis of cancer. The “burden” of calling anyone and asking for help can be too great and the patient may not want to “bother” anyone with their problems. Don’t offer to help when they ask, you ask them what they need and then refer back to #1, be present.3) Follow through.
If you promise to follow up with them after a treatment, do it. If you say you’re going to bring them a book, bring it. Don’t make empty promises to anyone, especially those who may be depending on you to be there in whatever capacity. Then refer back to #1 and #2 and repeat.4) Little things add up.
Do you think helping someone who’s going through cancer treatment has to include a grand gesture? Not at all. It can be many little things. Text them when you’re at the store to offer to pick something up they might need. Do their kids need a ride to/from practice? Call them when you’re getting coffee and pick one up for them too. Even text a funny gif for no reason at all. It’s the little things that add up and give whomever you’re caring for a smile, knowing they have not been forgotten. 5) Learn to listen.
There will be times you want to feed the frustration that goes along with cancer treatments. To yell and scream and use interesting adjectives along with the patient, but many times patients don’t need you to feed their anger. They simply need to vent. Nodding with a response of, “That stinks” or “I’m so sorry” is perfectly acceptable.6) Get creative.
Many times, people think what those going through cancer need is food, but it’s highly possible she may need someone to clean her bathroom, walk her dog, or mow her lawn. Even consider gift cards for gas, groceries, maid services, lawn services, coffee shops, bookstores, or any number of places she frequents. Recently, while my friend was unable to go into the office, her coworkers all went to work in teal, made signs of support, and posted pictures on Facebook for her to see. It made her day.7) Keep talking
. One of the many things cancer unfairly takes away is conversation. Many don’t know how to talk with those who’ve been diagnosed with cancer or are afraid to say anything. Understand that not all conversations now have to be about cancer. In fact, many times, those who’ve received a diagnosis don’t want to talk about it at that moment, but it doesn’t mean they won’t ever want to discuss it. Keep open lines of dialogue for any subject and any questions either of you might have. When both parties feel at ease, this can offer insights for each of you and can strengthen your relationship. In the meantime, talk as you normally would about sports, movies, books, kids, recipes, etc.
Many times, the care partner is lost in the shuffle of the patient’s diagnosis. It’s a hard place and position to be in and one that Our Way Forward
program, which was created by TESARO with input from the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and Ovarian Cancer Research Fund Alliance, aims to help navigate the physical and emotional challenges that ovarian cancer brings.