Visiting your friend who has cancer can be a challenge. There are so many small things that you can do or avoid, that will help to make your visit helpful to the patient. Some of the following may be obvious. Others are not. Read through each one and be open to the suggestions.
Be healthy. Cancer treatment seriously depletes the immune system. Do not visit if you have the slightest hint of a cold or any other bug. Phone and explain and your friend will be only too grateful.
Be there. Many times, you don’t need to do or to say. Just your company can mean so much. After surgery or a bout of vomitting, the patient won’t feel up to conversation, but she or he may be desperate for company. Visitors often realize from the silence that their friend is tired, and will say, “I’m going to leave you to sleep.” Maybe that is good, but maybe it’s not. Maybe they really need you to be with them, even if you sit next to the bed and page through a magazine while they doze. Ask them, “Would you like me to sit here quietly? Or would you rather I go and come another time?”
Be on time. Set a date and time and then arrive as planned. Your friend is under a lot of stress and needs to be sure you’re coming when you said you would.
Be thoughtful. For example, don’t wear perfume. Often chemotherapy affects the sense of smell and your beautiful French perfume may be extremely unpleasant to the patient.
Be generous. One friend from far away sent me several jars of expensive Barley Green. It was revolting and I struggled to get it down, but soon found it to be extremely helpful in building up my stamina. Once I’d used up her supply, I continued to get it, but I would never have bought it initially for myself. The relative of a friend, a person I never met, arranged for a wad of money to be put under our door around midnight on New Year’s Eve. We had no idea at the time where it came from, but what a wonderful start to the New Year!
Be patient. Sometimes this is not easy. The patient changes her feelings and emotions. One minute she wants something done this way, the next minute she’s upset because she doesn’t like it. The cancer roller coaster is an extremely trying time for your friend (and for family and friends) so do try to be understanding and not get annoyed. It might help to say honestly, “I want to do this, but I’m scared I won’t do it the way you want.” That will help your friend to be more patient with you.
Be loving. We all get annoyed or frustrated at times. “When you can’t make it, fake it” is a helpful saying in this situation. Fake your loving attitude and you’ll find you become more understanding.
Be attentive. Maintain eye contact. When they’re talking, listen. Really listen.
Be sensitive. If you want to hug, ask first. “Can I give you a hug?” And if they say, “No please not. I’m too sore,” show understanding.
Be careful. Watch your gifts. Do not give flowers or fruit to a patient on chemotherapy, They could harbor bacteria dangerous to their severely stressed immune system.
Over to you: If you’ve had cancer, what tips do you have for visitors?