Often when someone we know becomes ill we want to help but are at loss of what to do or how to help. Here is a list of 10 things we found helped us to live through my husband’s illness.

1. Be understanding. Do not expect that your friend will be up for visiting, especially if they are undergoing chemotherapy. Some people have few side effects and welcome visits, but some feel so poorly that simply eating and getting to the washroom takes most of if not all of their energy. Insisting on visiting, dropping by uninvited and expecting to visit, or complaining about feeling shut out is about you and not about helping your friend heal. Thank you Sandra for dropping things off and running and also stopping when I say please stay a few minutes and chat with me.

2. Offer to run an errand for your friend or his/her family. Cancer affects the whole family. Are you able to pick up their groceries for them when they first come home from the hospital? Is there a special out of the way grocer, health food store or international grocer you friend likes to shop at but under the circumstances it’s difficult for them to get there? Thanks to Heather for coming to the Indian grocer and considering this a visit.

3. Do you love dogs? Have one of your own? Offer to walk your friend’s dog or take them for a doggie play date once a week. Take poochie out for a good long walk and dry her off when you bring her back. When someone in the household is seriously ill, these are the type of things that become low priorities and often leave the owners (and their beloved dogs) feeling badly.

4. If there are children in the household offer to take them to movie one Saturday, out for a meal at McDonalds or Swiss Chalet or to a favourite park to play. Even a trip to a favorite retailer and a hot chocolate out with a caring adult can make this child’s life easier. Even if a parent is ill they always worry about their kids. Thanks to Brenda, Chapters and Starbucks.

5. Do you have a special talent? Are you a great organizers, love to drive, garden, or paint? Are you fabulous with maneuvering through government and legal forms? Are you a closet computer whiz? Offer up a couple of hours of your special gift. If it’s needed it will be welcomed.

6. If you friend is up for visitors watch for cues that he or she is getting tired. If an hour visit has been agreed to then leave when your hour is up. Your friend’s healing is more important than your prolonged visit. Visiting can be exhausting and your friend too polite to say they are dragging. Be considerate.

7. How’s your friend’s car running? Getting the oil changed, snow tires put on or dropping the vehicle off for the day at the mechanic is all the more challenging when some one is ill. Offering to do these simple things can be hugely appreciated.

8. If you are ill, have a cold, are getting over one or simply think you “may” no longer be contagious do not visit your friend’s home. A cold to you could turn into pneumonia and an exhausting hospital stay shortening their life. If you may be contagious and you and your friend agree to go ahead with your visit at least offer to wear a mask. Health care workers, therapists and nurses do this when they feel under the weather. Follow their lead. They do this for a reason. * Always wash your hands when you enter the home, even if you are well you may be a carrier. Bringing germs into a household of immune suppressed and exhausted people in this manner is simply irresponsible. Thanks Doug and the rest of you who arrive and start off our conversation with “let me go wash my hands first”.

9. Do send e-mails, and cards. They brighten up the room and the day. They are also easy to respond to when there are a few spare minutes and your friend feels well. Your presence and your caring are felt in the room each time one is read aloud. This is especially great if you are not near by.

10. Good thoughts and prayers are always welcome. Be sure to let you friend know you are thinking of them and their recovery. It always lifts the spirits.

I have had friends wait at pharmacies for prescriptions that need filling when husband was so ill I was advised not to leave him alone, bring in coffee and brownies, help me sort out my paperwork, pick up groceries, pick up cough syrup at the area’s only natural pharmacy when over the counter drugs would have been dangerous for my husband to take, cook 4 course meals and drop them off, spend time with my daughter who is a great kid, set-up a new printer and help me wash dishes. A nurse friend diagnosed a fungus infection surrounding an incision sparing us a difficult trip to the doctors. And I have had pharmacists, therapists, dentists, my Zonta sisters and friends let me re-schedule or cancel appointments without penalty or making me feel bad.

One last note: If your friend is not the one who has cancer but is the caregiver consider bringing in coffee and company rather than expecting your friend to go out for coffee. Going out is sometimes a good escape and other times simply adding to the caregiver’s stress level. Thanks Diana.