How to be supportive when you're several states away?
October 7, 2010 12:59 PM   Subscribe

A relative was just diagnosed with lung cancer. How can I be supportive?

My uncle was just diagnosed with lung cancer. I'm not really close with my extended family. I only see this particular uncle and his wife every couple years, exchange Christmas cards, etc. but I do like them, unlike some of my other family.

I'd like to be supportive, but I feel awkward. Like, because we are not close it would look odd to demonstrate support or simply not mean anything.

They also live several states away, which really limits what I can do. Sending a card just feels so underwhelming that it would be almost stupid and insensitive to do so.

It's stage IV, by the way, but they are going to start treatment.
posted by unannihilated to Human Relations (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If he's going to be in treatment, maybe he'd like books/DVDs to distract him? Is there something that he's interested in that you could send?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:05 PM on October 7, 2010

Personally, I'd send a hand-written note detailing a particularly funny or wonderful memory you have of your uncle. Then, wish him well and tell him you love him.
posted by two lights above the sea at 1:06 PM on October 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Send a card, and then keep sending cards, letting him know that you're thinking about him. The worst part of serious illness is the way other people feel awkward and pull away from you as a result. I know it seems sort of ghoulish or morbid to you to suddenly be sending cards all the time to someone with whom you're not close, but it will be a comfort to him. Believe me, he's going to find out that a lot of people that he thought would be there for him are not. He will appreciate anything you do to make him feel less alone.
posted by HotToddy at 1:36 PM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was coming in to suggest what two lights above the sea just said.

A close friend's mother was diagnosed with lung cancer just after we graduated from college. My friend mentioned she was going in to have more lung removed and I sat down and wrote her a note saying I'm sorry you're ill and I hope your recovery goes well and telling her what her son's friendship had meant to me and thanking her, basically, for having brought into the world someone who had been important in my life. My friend always spoke really fondly of his mom, and I thought she might like to hear that from someone.

I felt a little weird sending it, especially since I hadn't seen her in years and wasn't entirely sure she'd remember me. I had met her more than once, but really, she wasn't my friend, just a really good friend's mom. But in the end she was happy to get it not because it was overwhelmingly helpful or insightful but just because when you're sick and you're scared, it's nice to hear people wishing you well. That's not stupid or insensitive; that's kind. It's especially kind, if like HotToddy suggests, you keep sending cards. You don't have to write novels in them. You could even just send attractive postcards--what matters is the human connection.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:40 PM on October 7, 2010 [3 favorites]

My father just died of cancer and I can't tell you how much he appreciated people sending cards, calling, and visiting in the last few months of his life. People he'd not spoken to in decades turned up, and he never once thought it was strange or resented that they hadn't been in closer touch before he got sick; he just appreciated the support, and said at one point, in all sincerity, "I never knew I had this many friends." If you care and you're thinking about him, just let him know. It will be appreciated.
posted by something something at 1:52 PM on October 7, 2010

Personally, I'd send a hand-written note detailing a particularly funny or wonderful memory you have of your uncle. Then, wish him well and tell him you love him.

Nthing this.

An aunt of mine died last year of cancer. I had only met her and my uncle (and cousins) three times in my life.

I sent my uncle a handwritten letter with a sympathy card. He wrote back saying how much he and appreciated the communication, and inviting me to visit, etc.

You are FAMILY. He and your aunt will cherish your outreach.
posted by ericb at 2:18 PM on October 7, 2010

Please, send a card, with a handwritten note in it.

When my friend got lung cancer, one of the hardest things for him was when people didn't know how to react to him. He told me, heck, he didn't know how to react, either. It meant a lot to him when people basically told him "we love you" and "this sucks."

Please, don't be afraid to reach out and to say what you want to say.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:37 PM on October 7, 2010

My mother was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer several years ago. She had a lung resection, chemo and radiation. She's doing surprisingly well, on some sort of wonder drug, not at all "sick". Not to be all chirpy or anything but this diagnosis is not always the immediate death sentence it was even a few years ago. To be clear, it's not good news, but it may not be immediately awful news. She appreciated contact from other people, or, more to the point she sort of scorekept who she DIDN'T hear from because she is weird like that.

There is nothing wrong with sending a card or a letter or some sort of "you are in my thoughts" indicator. If you know he's going through chemo there are some chemo-specific things you could do, from sending good low-energy activities or media [movies, whatever he likes] to being supportive of your aunt in various ways [sending someone over with food or to clean her house or whatever might be useful. If you're handy with the internets, you might even be able to offer to help them set up something like a helping hands website where they could help manage people who might be nearby who wanted to help.

In short, anything is better than nothing. Staying in touch even if you don't have much to say is often appreciated for the effort/gesture that it is and not scrutinized for what isn't there. I wish you and your family luck. You're good to be thinking of them.
posted by jessamyn at 4:40 PM on October 7, 2010

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