Helping a Friend with Cancer... From Afar
January 7, 2005 1:43 PM   Subscribe

How can out-of-town friends help someone undergoing cancer treatment? [+]

A friend of mine was just diagnosed with Hodgkin's Disease. He's 21. The prognosis is good — Hodgkin's is among the more curable of cancers, plus they caught it somewhat early — but he'll be sidelined for about six months or so while he undergoes chemo and radiation. He's moved back home for treatment.

My friends and I want to get him a gift of some sort. We'd planned to get him a Nintendo DS, but he's already gotten one for himself. What sort of things will he need, other than emotional support? The symbolism of the gift isn't really as important as getting him something practical that he can use to get through the treatment.
posted by savetheclocktower to Human Relations (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Get together with all of your friends and have a video camera handy; make him a video card with all of you saying hi, giving the love, or hell, just doing dumb skits or something. It doesn't matter how stupid it seems: it's showing him that you're all rallying and thinking of him.
posted by Skot at 2:11 PM on January 7, 2005

Not to get too personal, but there's at least one MeFi member here who's got a very good first-person take on this.
posted by LairBob at 2:19 PM on January 7, 2005

I had non-hodgkin's lymphoma four years ago so I can speak somewhat from experience (I say somewhat because I think its different for everyone, and because I had radiation only, no chemo).

So some ideas...

A) I don't even know if such a thing exists, but some sort of taxi pass... radiation (and I bet chemo, too) is tiring and getting around can be exhausting. I blew a lot of money on cabs.

B) Books (maybe amazon gift certificates?) for all that time spent in waiting rooms. A magazine subscription might actually be better since magazines are easier to read in snippets.

C) I was provided with a list of brands of soap/shampoo/creams etc. to use while on radiation....Get the list, buy the stuff (it's a pain in the butt going out and looking for this stuff if you're tired and coping with your emotional stuff).

D) Think food...If the cancer is centred in the lymph nodes in the throat, eating can become difficult as the throat and mouth is sensitive and irritated from radiation. I know chemo can also mess with your apetite.. How about a some ideas or recipes . Alternatively a case of something calorie and nutrient dense (boost or nutrition bars or something)

E) A bunch of bottles of hand-santizer. Treatment can weaken the immune system...having a bunch of the stuff around for him and family members to use at every opportunity will help to keep him healthy.

Just some own experience was in being extremely lucky to have caught it so early I had no symptoms yet, and to have relatively easy treatment, so there weren't a lot of practical issues for to deal with. I know you want to be practical, but the non-practical stuff like calling and visiting are important, too.
posted by duck at 2:27 PM on January 7, 2005

Call and check on him every time he is in or out of the hospital. It doesn't matter to him if it's the 1rst time or the 20th. Each time can be an important event in his treatment. Mark milestones like sending him flowers when he's completed his chemo or been in remission for 6 months. The caring gestures shouldn't stop after the first month or two.

Earlier this year we threw a surprise "You're Alive!" party for a dear friend who'd made it to her 10 year remission anniversary. She cried when she read the letters we'd gathered telling her what she means to us. We also threw her a party at her 5 year anniversary too.
posted by onhazier at 2:30 PM on January 7, 2005

Books, and books on tape, or maybe an Audible subscription. DVD's. If he has a DS then games would be good too. He may be too manly for this, but knitting a great thing to do when your energy is low, and you get to have something to show for it at the end.
Also, remember you're not giving him a going away present - stay in touch. See what you can do for him later in his treatment that is appropriate for his mood and energy level then (talk to his caregivers if he's too tired). I second what Duck said about the importance of calling and visiting.
posted by smartyboots at 2:38 PM on January 7, 2005

A friend of mine, also in his 20s, was recently diagnosed with, and cured of, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, but the medical bills knocked him out. This very weekend, some friends and local bands (and an awesome local roller derby squad) are pitching in to organize a concert to help him with his bills.
Maybe you could do something similar?

Also, though I know y'all don't know him, please consider contributing! Andy's a great guy and could use the financial assistance.
posted by Dr. Wu at 3:56 PM on January 7, 2005

Things I loved: A weekly piece of mail of any kind is great. And in any order or quantity: magazines, Jolly Ranchers (any chemo kid's friend, believe me), big, stupid fluffy socks, cool head scarf or do-rag, anything cashmere, a massage gift certificate, dvds (although short tv shows might work better -- the eyes ache after chemo), a buckwheat pillow, a stuffed animal hot water bottle, tickets to something a year away, booze for later, a significant mix CD, offers of a weekend of chores ...

Things I hated: Inspirational books. Phone calls -- sorry, folks, but talking on the phone is a burden, write notes instead. Cancer donation cards. Adding his name to a prayer list (do it without telling if you must!) Video of everyone telling how much they love the person. Resist the impulse to reveal how bad you feel for the person, don't be overly sentimental, stick with the practical stuff.
posted by thinkpiece at 4:43 PM on January 7, 2005

NetFlix might be good. Or, if you're handy with the P2P networks, amass lots of yummy TV and movies and stuff to watch. Anyone with a laptop will be happy to get simple CD-burns full of their favorite TV shows in AVI/MPG format.
posted by scarabic at 5:54 PM on January 7, 2005

The best gift you can give is to make him laugh - mainly at himself.

First you need to find out some detailed stuff about his cancer (google it and sit down for a long study period) so that you are talking the same language. The fact that you have cared enough to do this will mean a lot and also make him feel far more at ease discussing his cancer and treatment. Somewhere in the past I wrote I have heard many people protest that if they had cancer, they wouldn't want to know. This is really, really dumb. Have you ever had a nightmare about something real? For almost everybody, the answer is NO. It is the unknown, the shadowy stuff, that normally causes fear. Human beings are actually pretty good at handling real situations and you will probably surprise yourself. Think about this and keep the subject honest and open and even frequent. Even when surrounded by family and friends, many people feel isolated because they feel that they are the only ones who understand.

Even with a good prognosis, many people treat cancer as a death sentence. It isn't, it is an illness like any other so don't treat him like he should be afraid. If you really want to buy him a gift, get whatever you would have got if he didn't have cancer.

I hope all goes well and would be happy for you (or him) to contact me directly if you think I can be of any help.
posted by Cancergiggles at 1:05 AM on January 8, 2005 [2 favorites]

Pooling together enough $ with your friends to have a maid service come in once a week can be a relief to those who wish to maintain order within their circumstances. It's really not that expensive, and sometimes it leads to a new and dependable kind of relationship. If you stay in touch with the person doing the service, you can also find out about more needs as long as you keep trust and confidentiality for the parties involved in mind.
posted by Heatwole at 9:40 AM on January 8, 2005

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