There are a number of ways you can support a family fighting cancer. If you’re wondering how you can help then please read this blog and share it with others.
Over the last month, we’ve had so much support from friends, family, work colleagues, and strangers. Everyone has asked, “What do you need?” “what can we do?”
So much of the support comes from people’s love for us and our boys. And the need to be able to help comes from people feeling helpless. They can see we are suffering as we watch Bilbo suffer and they want to ease the pain.
I thought I’d write a top ten, ways you can support a family fighting cancer to help people who might need to support a family in a similar way again (I hope not) or just to know what we’ve found super helpful in the early stages of our fight against cancer.
Several ways you can support a family fighting cancer
Messages of Support
Every single message we’ve received has been read. I haven’t always replied and the ones I have responded to weren’t better, more interesting or the person meant more. It mostly depended on the moment, the situation, the point at which I read the message.
In the first few days at the hospital it was chaos. We had down time where I’d read and respond. There were manic points when it felt like Piccadilly circus and there wasn’t a moment to think. I’d read a message and start a reply and then so much would happen and I wouldn’t get back to it.
Every time we get a message, it means that people are thinking of us. They are sending positive energy and vibes our way. Something that I noticed on many messages was the line “no need to reply.” I’ve never thought of putting something like that, but it left me thinking “Yey, no guilt for not replying,” so it is a nice touch and something I will remember in the future.
Self-care is so important, especially in those early days. So many of you wanted to make sure we were fed and watered. This ranged from care packages for the hospital to snacks and gift cards for the shop. To meal vouchers for awesome companies who arrange food to be delivered. And some delicious home-cooked meals.
The vouchers are amazing for convenience, and actually, we didn’t use them in the first weeks. But once we got into a rhythm they’ve helped no end when we’ve had busy hospital weeks.
Hello Fresh is awesome simply because they take the pain out of having to think about cooking BUT they give you the ability to cook, which I have found quite therapeutic once both boys are in bed. The recipe is easy to follow and everything is weighed out. We’ve been fortunate to receive some vouchers which we can use when we need them.
We also have a voucher for Cook Food and will be checking them out once we’ve used up some of the food in our freezer.
I felt a bit weird accepting food from people, I don’t know whether it was a pride thing or what!?! I’m an idiot!
The day we came home from the hospital, there was a homemade lasagna waiting for us. It just meant everything at that moment. The evening we arrived home after a long day at the hospital, and our friend knocked on the door with fresh bolognese, dissolved so much stress. And the delicious pies that have been our go-to “convenience” food but have been cooked with love and fresh ingredients make rough days that little bit easier.
We’ve also been lucky enough to receive homemade cakes, cookies and lots and lots of care packages with yummy treats. THANK YOU!
So if you can cook, I’m sure your gesture will mean the world. Just remember if you’re providing stuff for the freezer, date it and give instructions on how to reheat.
I don’t know a lot about other cancers but those suffering from blood cancers like leukaemia patients get through a lot of blood and platelets. We’ve created a campaign to raise awareness of the need to donate blood in a past blog.
#Donate4Bilbo is important to us, it means our friends and family can do something to help someone like us (or anyone who needs blood). I’m so proud of everyone who has booked to give blood and colleagues organising group blood donations.
Presents for the Family
Presents are great, there have been endless times when I’ve needed to bribe Bilbo to take medication or be brave. Knowing I have a little treat up my sleeve has been a godsend. Especially the gifts that are Lego/dinosaur-related. We’ve had loads and loads of activity books, sticker books, and colouring pens. There is a lot of downtime in the hospital, and at home, so they’re well received. Things that keep kids busy for short periods of time are ideal. Messy play is fun at home but not great for hospital stays. I can’t thank everyone enough for the things they’ve sent us.
Remember siblings…we’ve been lucky enough to have thoughtful friends and family who’ve included H. But think about the fact that cancer is tearing apart a whole family not just the person who has cancer.
A special mention goes to Sylvia, who’s sent some of the most interesting items from across Europe on her travels. THANK YOU!
In our first few days care packages arrived at our house whilst I was still in hospital. Every single one was thoughtful and carefully put together. They included essentials like lip balm (hospitals are so dry), magazines, snacks, little activities for Bilbo to do in the hospital, gin and tonic, and beer. (I can’t stress how awesome our friends are) toiletries, including dry shampoo (an essential hospital item). Think about what the family might need regarding their taste and who might be at home more, who might be in the hospital more.
I would also highly recommend this brand: Don’t Buy Her Flowers.
Now I love flowers so I’m not advocating for not sending them. But sometimes, depending on if people are going to be in hospital for a long time, they may not have the luxury of being able to enjoy the flowers. Don’t Buy Her Flowers knows how to make a care package.
Keep this one on your favourites. They do gifts for all occasions, and the items are all high quality. When this arrived I felt really special.
This is another one that has, at times, made me feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to sound ungrateful but it is quite weird to be thrust into a situation where people you know and love want to give you money. But I want to spend some time on it because everyone is different and faces different financial challenges.
Getting cancer is EXPENSIVE
From the moment the doctor says ‘cancer’, costs go up. Travel for treatment, car parking, accommodation, extra heating costs at home. CLIC Sargent research shows parents spend an average of £600 more when their child has cancer.
Many parents are also forced to give up work and can be plunged into debt because of their child’s cancer. And that’s before you add in hidden costs, like parents’ and young people’s mental health. Families should not have to face spiralling debt and mental ill health because their child has cancer.
We’re lucky to both have jobs where our companies are able to support us with some time off. We have a car to get us to and from the hospital, but we aren’t living hand-in-mouth on a tight budget. But there are many families where cancer can cripple their finances. I can’t imagine dealing with this BS if I was self-employed, in a one-income family, or on a zero-hour contract.
Find out what the person most needs in this difficult time. In the first few weeks, they might not even know.
Vouchers are a godsend, especially where you can buy various things. M&S has been great for us as there is one at the hospital so that we can use the vouchers for coffee and food, but we can also use them for other items we need. But any supermarket or department store is going to come in handy.
In the last few days, we’ve had to buy an entire wardrobe for Bilbo. He’s put on almost 14lbs. This has included:
- a new school uniform
We’ve also spent a fortune on food as Bilbo’s appetite is out of control on the steroids.
Next month it might be something different that is costing us. We know the heating bill will increase as we’re home more and must keep the house warm.
They might pick a charity
And if, like us, they’d prefer to direct money to a charity, give them some time to think that through. For us, it was a no-brainer Young Lives vs Cancer has been holding our hands through the entire process. From sorting our parking ticket out to offering us a bed at the CLIC Sargent houses to save on travel costs. Navigating our emotions, schooling for Bilbo, and everything in between. The charity does amazing things.
You can donate through our page if you’d like GoFundMe
For everyone who has donated and been SOOOO generous thank you. I beam with pride when we see the total go up and I can’t believe how much love you’ve all shown us through this page. When we reach the end of this shitty journey and we talk about these dark times with Bilbo. The love and light from those around us shines through and he’ll be able to see how much love he was shown.
The visitors we’ve had over the past 5 weeks have energised us. Bilbo enjoyed visits from his friends, and I’ve enjoyed seeing friends and work colleagues.
BUT we’re extroverts, Bilbo is a very sociable little boy. And we’re not very private. Not everyone is like us.
Be mindful of the family and think about how they’re choosing to handle the BS that is cancer. You might want to see them, but they might not be ready for visitors. It might be more appropriate to pop a card through the door, or a gift on their doorstep.
When you’re dealing with cancer, you’re a cook, cleaner, and carer to the person who is sick. The last thing you might feel like doing is hosting visitors. Or clearing up to accept visitors.
Top tips for being a good visitor:
- Don’t come if you’re sick, think you’re getting sick, or just over being sick. They won’t thank you for sharing your germs; it may cost them a hospital visit.
- Take your shoes off
- Wash your hands on arrival and remember to use some antibacterial hand gel
- Don’t expect to be waited on, bonus points for making them a cuppa
- Don’t outstay your welcome
Offer Your Services
Over the last few weeks, we’ve been offered various services from friends and family. We’ve got people on the hook for babysitting duties, odd jobs, cooking, ironing, and cleaning. Sending an IOU is a great way to offer support. In the early days, the thought of leaving your child for long is unlikely but there will be a time when it will be needed.
If the family has more than one child, babysitting services will be needed in spades. Maybe a pickup or drop-off from school during an early or late hospital visit.
Don’t Do Anything – yet
This might seem an odd thing to say. And I don’t mean do nothing at all. You can still send a message of support in the early days. But cancer is such a roller coaster. Some days you don’t know what week it is, where you’re headed, and what the next phase will look like from day to day. Knowing people care and want to help is great but it is a head fuck sometimes knowing what you need or even how to ask for help.
People are proud, I know I am.
And some cancer journeys are long. Ours is 3.5 years +
The support has been marvellous over the last 5 weeks but will there be the queues of people offering to help this time next year (I know our friends and family will be there) when you’re relying on a smaller support group, or one you know less well, is there a point when you run out of favours?
We’ve seen so many families in the last 5 weeks who don’t have half the support we have. We are blooming lucky. So think about how you can be the knight in shining armour a few months in. Surprise that person when the journey is still just as hard somewhere down the line.
Listening extends to listening to what people and what they are not saying. Read between the lines, read the situation and be there. I’ve wanted to rant to friends; I’ve wanted not to talk about it at all. I’ve wanted to laugh about it in a weird, twisted, dark way.
You might have ideas about what you think the family might need, but just take a moment to think and play it back. What are they saying? We’ve had so many moments where our friends have read between the lines and really helped us out. And I’m so grateful for that.
Hopefully, that gives you several ways to support a family fighting cancer. If this helps just one person it is worth writing.
Feel free to share this list if you’ve just had a family diagnosis with friends and family, it might take the pressure off.
And if you’ve found out one of your loved ones has been diagnosed, read it and think about how you can best help them.