9 Tips To Helping Someone Newly Diagnosed

Just like each of us are created with different likes and dislikes—reaching out can look differently from one patient to the next. This is tough. But from personal experience, the following actions brought the greatest joy during the ugliest times in my life.
1)      Food.
There’s a reason most churches have a meal ministry. When you’re bone-tired, the last thing you want to do is shop or research recipes or stand in front of any type of oven.
Bring them a meal.
Call first, of course.
But please avoid saying, “If there’s anything I can do, let me know.” I rarely took anyone up on this offer. Instead say, “We want to help by bringing dinner. What day of the week works best?”
Then, ask for any dietary restrictions and meal preferences. No one wants ten lasagnas back to back. And don’t forget that disposable dish or your great-aunt Martha’s floral china may never return. A patient probably won’t remember who brought what.
Individual Chicken Pot Pie
My sweet friend, Ronda, often dropped off her creamy chicken pot pie after a long day of treatment. Priceless.
2)      Cards.
Funny ones, preferably with gifts tucked inside.
I’m just saying.
Nothing brightened my day more than to open a hilarious card that someone took great lengths to pick out. I chuckled, then sobbed when I realized they hid a folded check inside—even if it was only twenty-five dollars.
Gift Cards
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, the medical bills arrived in clumps. We couldn’t keep up with them. Any amount was helpful.
However, if you’re on a budget, like most of us, then simply send a card saying you’re praying.
And for heaven’s sake, don’t write, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
Although this statement might be true, nothing gripes your insides tighter than learning God had anything to do with your new heart condition. Yes, He uses everything. I’ll talk more about what not to do in a future post, but for now, keep it simple.
Funny card, prayer, favorite verse, gift card to a local restaurant, you get the idea.
Think of what you’d like to receive and go from there.
3)      Cleaning service.
No one likes to clean.
Okay, my girlfriend Lyette is the exception. She has 14 kids and her house sparkles, but I also think she’s part machine because she rarely sleeps and always smiles and is the first to help someone in need.
Nonetheless, most of us don’t enjoy cleaning—especially when drowsy from medication or mentally fatigued from digesting scary news.
4)    Flowers. 

Spring bouquet of flowers

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love flowers. I discourage my husband from buying them because they cost so much and I’d rather he spend fifty bucks on an outfit that will last a year versus a bouquet that lasts a week.
But, flowers make you smile.
5)      Space.
My phone rang off the hook once news of my illness rippled through our congregation, and although we knew people wanted to help, the repeated phone calls asking for an update became exhausting.
I’m sure your loved one will figure out quickly that they need one mouthpiece in the family to keep everyone up to date.
Don’t repeatedly call.
If you want to help and they’re not picking up the phone, mail a card, send flowers, but give them space.
Life probably stinks right about now and they’re trying to figure it all out.
6)      Listen.
If you happen to be that close friend they chose to confide in, just listen.
Don’t offer advice or feel like you have to fix their problem.
You can’t.
And senseless rambling searching for the perfect words to comfort them may end up backfiring. Just listen. Say you’re there for them. And, as odd as this sounds, tell them about news in your life if they seem interested.
The first thing I noticed when people called was that they were afraid to talk about their life–especially the bad stuff. And this just made me feel like I was the only one stuck in a cruddy situation. I kind of wanted to know I wasn’t fighting alone.
To top that off, after the initial shock of everything subsided during my treatments, I cherished the friends who didn’t ask me how I was doing. I didn’t want the reminder that a football-sized mass threatened to swallow my lungs.
Some days I just wanted to forget and relish someone else’s normalcy. Because I had to believe I’d be there again one day.
7)      Netflix.
Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

If they don’t have this service, sign them up for a six month subscription. I did a lot resting and commercials got old. Fast. Mind numbing TV, especially comical shows, really helped ease those thoughts running through my head.
Or, purchase the I Love Lucy box set, or Friends, or Christian comedian DVDs. Laughter is good medicine.
8)      Gifts.
Even gently used ones.
Let me explain. I had a major lifestyle change after reading numerous “how to cure cancer” books. My friend, Shelly, heard me mention I was looking for a juicer, and the next thing I know, she showed up with this high-tech, super expensive juicer I could have never purchased without maxing out some plastic.
I could have kissed her, although that would have been weird. But this priceless machine played a big part in aiding my new vegetarian diet. Every organic apple/carrot concoction eased my mind and fed those healthy blood cells.
Listen to their needs, then surprise them.
Books, babysitting, a care basket with organic teas or fruit, a bag full of disposable plates, cups and utensils, a car ride to a doctor’s appointment. You get the idea.
9)      Prayer.
Stop and say a simple prayer when you see the rims of their eyes fill with tears.
They’re scared.
Really scared.
And sometimes that whispered prayer carried me through my day, even if it was something simple like, “God, please be with Dabney as she fights against this disease.”
Nothing fancy.
But it was nice to know that others were petitioning the Big Man on my behalf. I secretly think God cherishes those prayers the most—the ones we join together and believe and hope and lean desperately on His understanding. The two or more theory not only eases our mind, it brings the Father into our circle.
I’m sure there were more things friends did, but my memory doesn’t like me some days. These just happen to be the top nine that stick out the most.
So, I’m curious. What things have you done for an ailing friend? Or, what things have loved ones done for you that helped during your sickness? Maybe you’ve had one of those gut-wrenching moments where someone said or did something hurtful unknowingly, but it sank your spirit. We’d all like to learn if you feel comfortable commenting anonymously. 

~~~To comment, scroll to the top right~~~

  1. Lyette says:

    You are so funny…Oh – also another good suggestion – if you can’t cook a meal, send over a delivery meal. Most local italian restaurants offer more than pizza, and a great bowl of Italian wedding soup or pasta fagoli and a salad can cure just about anything – or at least your sad heart for a while! I had a friend recently do this for me and it was such a blessing! xoxoxo- great, honest suggestions for how to
    help. I HATE the, “call if you need anything” response. Hate that.

    • dabneyland says:

      Ooh, love this suggestion. I’ll have to remember this next time. 🙂
      And…if I had a nickel for every time some said that phrase, I would have a whole five dollars.
      Thanks, friend.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have a newly diagnosed friend 🙁 I and will follow up on some of these suggestions. It is yet another young mom with breast cancer….
    After losing a very brave friend last year, from ovarian cancer, I know that spending time w/ her praying and laughing was very helpful. She loved the soups from Panera and you can buy the family pack. She had a lot of sores in her mouth from her meds. and got tired of sweet smoothies and wanted savory flavors like the broccoli cheddar and tomato bisque. I would do grocery runs for her so her kids could help her husband with the dinners. I miss her so much and cherish the days I spent visiting her and talking about “nothing”…

    • dabneyland says:

      Bless you. I have tears in my eyes reading this, because it’s friends like you who make all the difference in the world. Some friends are afraid to come around because they don’t know what to say or do. Just being there is enough. The isolation can be so lonely.
      Thank you for sharing this reminder to hang out and do nothing but be a real friend.
      Bless you.

  3. Brenda says:

    I am the mom…..many thanks for all the names mentioned and a ton of others she never knew about. Food came frequently, knowing I do not cook, you saved the entire family and friends who stopped by. Money came in from relatives, church members and strangers from unknown sources…..such a blessing! Amounts as little as five dollars up to a month house payment. You know who you are and that you will never get a personal thank you from us. Who needs our thanks, the blessing you get comes from our heavenly father. They had a house with utilities as a result of the givers. I might add when a family member could not drive friends packed the van, kept the baby Madison, waited countless hours in the lobby feeding, burping and caring for our grand daughter. The result of that is Madison does not know a stranger and is a selfless compassionate child.
    Just when it is more than you can take, angels unaware step in. Thank you each and every angel in our family’s life.

    • dabneyland says:

      So very true! There were many angels in our midst that stepped in to help out when we needed it the most. You were one of them. Moms always get taken for granted. Sorry about that. You’re just supposed to be there, even when I’m cranky. 😉 You’ve helped so much over the years…but bits and pieces of that are in the book.
      Love you beyond measure.

  4. Shelly says:

    Dabney…brings me back to those days of going to see you in the hospital, sitting and playing cards and laughing about how cute you looked bald. 🙂 Talking about how if anything happened to you we would make sure Jason had lots of help with Maddie. And even getting into a car accident because I was listening to a song and crying over your situation. You were really on my mind and I felt so blessed that God had put you and Jason in our lives.
    I had forgotten about the juicer…but was remembering about how I had come to organize your closet and made you get all new hangers so they would all match…ha!
    I just know that it gave me great joy just to be there. 🙂 I love reading your post and hope that more people would learn how to “just do” and not ask!!!
    Miss you sweet friend,

  5. dabneyland says:

    Shelly!!! I miss you guys and hope you’re well. I will never forget all those times you visited in the hospital and brought me anything I wanted, like a big mac and a fountain coke. I remember at. St Mary’s being so excited to eat, but when I bit in to the sandwich it tasted like salt. 🙁 I remember the cards and the bedroom makeover. You were always that in-your-face-friend. Thank you. Actually, the Big Mac story is in the book–hope that’s okay. I think Tyndale will ask you to sign something that says it’s okay for me to use your name.
    I forgot about the accident. So sorry.
    Thanks for being such a caring friend. Pray you guys are well.
    Big hugs,

  6. Wonderful Dabney!! I have a friend who lost her husband and she said the worst thing you can say to someone that just lost someone close to them is, “They’re in a better place now.” As true as this may be, it stings for the person who is hurting so deeply to hear these words, like this should just erase the pain. Instead, just be there. She felt most loved by people who just spoke fondly of her lost love and were able to share memories of him together!
    Although, your post is about newly diagnosed, not lost, but I guess it could fit in this category??
    I remember so clearly the day we got the call about you 14 years ago and the journey that followed. You have walked in amazing faith!!
    God bless you!

    • dabneyland says:

      Well don’t I feel like the forgetful friend right now. Cheryl! You were so helpful and encouraging and loving and supportive of me when I was sick. And you even bought be comfy pjs and showed up with a month’s worth of gifts during my transplant. Hello. Forgetful much? Geez. Sorry for leaving you off this list.
      Yes, what you said about “They’re in a better place” is so difficult to hear when you’ve lost a loved one. Sadly, (and I’m so ashamed to admit this) I’ve said this! I didn’t know what else to say, so I blubbered out every thought that came to mind. I’ve since learned how hurtful that comment is. The best place for any mom, spouse, or child that’s passed is in their loved one’s arms. At least that’s how the heart of the mourning feel. 🙁
      Thank you for this reminder. I wish I would have known sooner.
      Love you like a sistah! You’ll forever be my favorite friend.
      Big hugs!

  7. Your so sweet Dabney! Love your writing and love your heart!

  8. pamelaketterer@comcast.net says:

    Dabney, has always had it right.

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