Ten Tender Tips: Insights From A Cancer Survivor

tender gifts - favorite magazines

By Lynda Wertheim

There are no rules on how someone is supposed to react to a diagnosis of a serious disease. Every situation is different. This is a fundamental part of the advice I was given when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 1998. I continue to believe these words are the first things patients need to absorb:

  1. Everyone’s diagnosis is different.
  2. Everyone’s treatment is different.
  3. Everyone’s reaction to their treatment is different.

When people are diagnosed with a serious illness, they’re exposed to a voluminous amount of information from their doctors, as well as from friends and colleagues who are eager to help during this time. It can be overwhelming. But the simple words above, given to me by the woman who led the support group I attended, have proven to be useful, and I continue to share them with other people to this day.

Patients and their caregivers need to remember that they have entered a world they had no intention of inhabiting, and the adjustment period can be difficult. They are understandably eager to complete their stay with minimal residual effects and, ideally, do not become long-term residents of this new world.

As someone who was fortunate to be a short-term visitor, I offer these Ten Tender Tips as a resource to the fellow travelers who spend time in this unfamiliar territory. May your stay in this environment be a short one, and may you leave it a healthier and more knowledgeable person — knowledgeable not only about your medical treatment and your health, but more importantly, understanding what makes life such a wonderful gift.

Tips for the Patient:

  1. Remember there are no rules, so don’t try to follow any.
  2. Delegate projects to people who ask what they can do to help (get mail, take out garbage, go to the cleaner, do the laundry, etc.).
  3. Celebrate your chemo day — dress up, go out for a nice lunch. Side effects don’t really start until 2-3 days after the infusion.
  4. Buy pretty scarves for your head.
  5. Indulge yourself — eat your favorite foods, go shopping at your favorite stores, etc.
  6. Read your favorite magazines.
  7. Keep track of the people who call, who send cards and notes, and who come to visit — it will serve to remind you how many people care about you.
  8. Experiment doing something you have never done before: take a yoga class, practice relaxation exercises, listen to calming music, take dance lessons.
  9. Keep a journal. Your emotions are often very close to the surface during the early days of a diagnosis. And while people are willing to listen when you speak about your feelings, sometimes your innermost thoughts can only be shared with your soul. A diary is a great resource for this.
  10. Be nice to yourself — this adventure is really all about you.

Tips for Friends and Caregivers:

  1. Be a presence in the person’s life.
  2. Offer to take on a specific project (do laundry, buy groceries, etc.).
  3. Send notes, cards — just to show you are thinking of that person.
  4. Bring funny magazines as gifts. Never underestimate the power of laughter.
  5. Send a contribution in the person’s name to an organization which may be helping them through their illness, even indirectly.
  6. Put together a package, like a small shopping tote, filled with some of the person’s favorite things (lipstick, colorful post-its, book of limericks, etc.).
  7. Call the day before the first chemo treatment and wish them good luck.
  8. Offer to escort the person to their doctor appointment and help by taking notes.
  9. Bring a song list for their iPod.
  10. Be a good listener. Don’t feel or act like you have to solve a given problem — just listen.

Lynda Wertheim lives and works in New York City.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we are reprinting this important and useful blog, which originally ran on February 22, 2011.

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82 Responses to “Ten Tender Tips: Insights From A Cancer Survivor”

  1. From a survivor of 7 years. Your tips are right on!:)