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SU2C and Mastercard Share Small Things That Can Make a Big Difference to Help a Cancer Patient

Posted on July 12, 2017, 12:00 PM

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There are currently more than 15.5 million people in the US who have been diagnosed with cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.  Most patients have one or more caregivers.  At some point in our own lives, we may become patients or caregivers, or at different times both.  Stand Up To Cancer and Mastercard have assembled some ways we can all be a caregiver and pitch in to support patients and families as they go through treatment or recovery.

1. Volunteer to do something specific.  It may be difficult, in the midst of medical treatment, for patients to be able to respond to general or open-ended offers to help.  Rather than asking the patient, “How can I help?” a good first step is to ask yourself, “What can I do that might be needed or appreciated?  Is there something I have time to do weekly or monthly?  Or do I only have time to help with a one-time offer?”
With that in mind, there’s a plethora of specific ways to offer help.  Here’s a list to consider:

  • Prepare a “chemo care kit”:
    • Soft sweaters, blankets, socks, layers, things to keep warm
    • Offer to type out a list of the patient’s current medications and make copies so they have the list to take with them to appointments
    • Assemble a small, lightweight travel cooler with ice, popsicles, or just bottled water (helps prevent mouth sores) to take on treatment days
    • Toiletries
    • V-neck or button up shirt for access to port (cotton)
    • Books, magazines, “Mad Libs,” crosswords, trivia games, or a deck of cards to provide things to pass the time during treatment
  • Babysitting
  • If the patient is a child, arrange play dates or offer rides for their (healthy) brother or sister
  • Pet care (feed, walk, bathe, bring them to the vet, or carry home the large, heavy bags of pet food)
  • Light house cleaning and maintenance such as watering houseplants, changing light bulbs, changing AC filters, or offering to plant a few flowers in their yard so there’s some bright, lively color that’s welcoming and cheerful when they come home or look out the window
  • Research support groups if they are interested in that kind of help
  • Pick up prescriptions, dry-cleaning or run other routine errands
  • Do or fold laundry

2. Get others involved, and help with meal preparation and delivery.  Set up a “Take Them a Meal Page” and mobilize others in your community.  While you’re at it, check out these “10 Tips for Taking Meals to Friends with Cancer.”  Patients often have nutritional side effects and this page has great suggestions. 

3. Give the gift of time!  Providing what is called “respite” gives family members a much needed break to care for themselves in whatever way they need.  Family members are much more likely to “take a break” knowing someone is there “just in case.”

4. Transportation help. Cancer care can involve a lot of transportation to and from treatment, so gift cards to purchase gas can be especially helpful. Or, if you are able, offer a ride to and from appointments. 

5. Thinking About You. Patients are often too tired to talk on the phone, or engage in repeated conversations, but they still want to know you are thinking about them.  Once a week, drop a short note or a postcard in the mail that just says “Thinking about you,” or, “Sending you some hugs.”  Or send an email or text every few days with a silly joke.  Not only will the patient know you are thinking about them, it may give them a smile.  Be conscious that they may not respond or engage in conversation, but that they will when they can.

These small things, and others, can make a big difference to a cancer patient and their family. Share your story about a caregiver moment on See how Stand Up To Cancer and Mastercard are celebrating caregivers in the lives of cancer patients and survivors at


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