Friends and Family
How You Can Help:

Information for Friends and Family


The following is a collection of suggestions on ways to help the family with a child diagnosed with cancer.

The length of treatment for childhood cancers can range from several months to several years. It is a very long process, and can be emotionally, physically and financially challenging.

Family and friends sometimes just don’t know what to say or do for a family with a child receiving treatment. At the same time, parents of a child with cancer often find it hard to talk frankly to family and friends. It’s an ordeal that is terribly difficult to understand unless you’ve walked in their shoes.

* These have been pulled from families with a child with cancer nationwide. We have included this on our website in the hope that it will help provide direction to the friends and family who want so desperately to help their loved ones during this difficult time.

Thoughts on things to do for a family with a child with cancer:


  • Clean their house before they come home from the hospital.

  • Mow their lawn/rake leaves

  • Get them a gift certificate for video rentals or a membership for the family to Netflix. (www.netflix.com)

  • Buy iTunes gift cards for the child undergoing chemotherapy.
    Perhaps even get them an iPod or mp3 player (maybe go in on it
    with other friends).

  • Get puzzle books, reading books, and activity books for the
    child undergoing treatment.

  • A night or day of babysitting for the siblings and/or for the
    child in treatment or both.

  • Fill a bag with things you think the parent(s) might need
    while in-patient and drop it by the hospital. Just think to
    yourself, "If I couldn't be home for over a week, and stuck in
    one place with little sleep, what would I need/want?" And then
    throw it in the bag. Items that families have suggested include:
    note cards; postage stamps; nail care products; laundry
    detergent; current magazines; hand lotion (hospital soap really
    dries out your hands); quarters (for the hospital vending
    machines); bottled water and/or their favorite soda; socks (yes,
    socks – most parents are walking around the hospital room/floor
    in socks which get dirty/wet quickly. A fresh pair is always
    nice to have but not something they always think to bring);
    chewing gum/candy; flashlight (for when the child falls asleep
    in the room but the parent wants to stay up and/or needs to look
    for something and doesn’t want to turn on the bright, florescent
    light); book/reading light; gas cards; restaurant gift cards
    (include menus from nearby restaurants that deliver to the
    hospital); check with the hospital and see if you can buy a gift
    certificate to the hospital cafeteria.

  • If it's possible to get there, go and sit with the parent in
    the hospital on those long days. Bring a favorite food or a new
    magazine, and bring lots of news and stories to make them feel
    less left out of normal life. Offer to stay with the child so
    Mom or Dad can get a shower and something to eat while you’re
    there.

  • If the sick child is a teen, provide transportation for their
    friends so that they can go to the hospital. Staying in touch
    with friends and having their support is REALLY important at
    that age.

  • Enlist people to send cards and silly, fun things to the child
    and any brothers or sisters. A little fun and excitement from
    the dollar store can go a long way toward alleviating pain and
    fear.

  • Find out what the child likes (stickers, beanie baby toys,
    cool hats, pins, legos, etc.) and help get a collection started
    if he or she doesn't have one already. It will provide something
    fun to focus on and then people will know what to send or bring
    when they don't know what else to do. If the child already has a
    collection, find out what it is and let people know about it so
    they can add to it.

  • Commit yourself to be the friend of one or all of the siblings
    of a sick child – someone the child can call on when he or she
    needs to talk or is feeling left out. Find time to give each of
    them attention, time, treats. Siblings are scared and they
    easily feel left out, especially when all the focus seems to be
    on their ill sibling. They need people to take them places and
    listen to them and make them feel important. Be that person!

  • Find out if there are any special needs the family has, and
    try to coordinate a solution to their problem. Is there a child
    who is often home alone after school because one parent is at
    work and the other is at the hospital? Do they need help with
    transportation or a supply of meals on certain days when normal
    life is impossible because of clinic visits, diagnostic tests,
    etc.? Once you've identified an area of concern, work with the
    family to help them solve the problem.

  • Don't ever decide on your own to sponsor a large project like
    a fund-raiser or major house repair, etc., without talking with
    the family first. As well-meaning as many of these efforts can
    be, they may not always be serving the family's most urgent
    needs. Any supportive undertaking needs to be done in a way that
    respects the family's wishes and honors their privacy.

  • Be light-hearted and break the tension and stress of a
    hospital stay and/or treatment at home and show up (at the
    hospital or at home) with bubbles, silly string, joke books,
    Marx Brothers videos, rub-on tattoos, whatever. Life is scary
    enough right now without having all the grown-ups walk in with
    long faces. It'll help Mom and Dad, too. (Note from a cancer
    parent: One of our dearest friends showed up at the hospital
    with a roll of paper, painters tape – the kind that doesn't
    leave sticky marks – and a box of markers. She covered the walls
    with paper and each person who visited my son drew pictures for
    him, wrote jokes, left funny notes and signed their names. Of
    course, he wanted to draw, too! Distraction is the name of the
    game!)

  • Paper products are great! Napkins, paper plates, plastic cups,
    silverware, etc. really helps. When the family is home between
    hospital visits, they can spend less time cleaning up after
    meals and more time focusing on their child(ren). When they go
    to the hospital, they can bring some of it along to use there.

  • If the child is still in diapers, find out what brand/size the
    child uses and pick up a box or two for them. When a child is on
    harsh chemotherapy, they need to be changed much more often then
    they normally would. Families will easily go through three times
    the amount of diapers now than they did before their child got
    sick.


Messages from parents of a child with cancer
(What they want to say to you but probably won't)


  • “Don't take "no, we don't need any help" from a family as
    their final response – ask again. Don't say, "Well, call us if
    you need something" because we probably won't call. We are not
    used to needing help from others and do not know (1) that we
    need it and (2) how to say yes. If you really mean it when you
    say you want to help, please come up with your own ideas, such
    as "I'd like to mow your grass" or "I will babysit (the younger
    sibling(s) if any) this week-end" or "I will be snow-blowing
    your drive-way for the season" or "Let me stay with your son
    overnight at the hospital so you can get some rest at home" or
    “I will drive your other children to school/pick them up from
    school for the next few weeks to help you out.” And if you make
    such an offer and we refuse, we may be refusing because we
    really don't need help like that at the moment, but please,
    please call back in a week or two and try again.”

  • “I think what most folks forget is that this is SUCH a LONG
    term family problem. Meals and help the first few weeks are
    nice....but we're dealing with stuff that will last one to
    several years. It's easy to fade out of the picture. Emotional
    support is CRUCIAL for the family – for the entire time our
    child is in treatment. Just make a point to call, once a week or
    every two weeks. Parents of cancer kids lose some of their
    former friends and get distanced from their relatives. Please
    just let us know you’re still thinking of us, praying for our
    child, sending good thoughts – and not just the first few weeks
    or months – but throughout the years that we may be enduring
    this.”

  • “People just don't know what to say...so they don't call. It's
    a horrible feeling to feel like you have the plague or
    something. We need friends that just call for no reason! And you
    don’t have to say anything. Just call and say “I’ve been
    thinking about you.” That leaves it wide open for me to say “I’m
    so glad you called…let me tell you about…” or “This really isn’t
    a good time, but I’m so glad you called…” At least we know you
    called and you care. And that means more than anything.”

  • “Please don't say: ‘I don't know how you handle it, I just
    couldn't do it’ because we don’t have a choice in this. What are
    we supposed to do? Shrivel up and die because our child has
    cancer? We aren't "handling" it because we are “so strong”; we
    love our child and simply have no choice.”

  • “I felt much more comfortable if people just dealt with it
    head on and acknowledged that something horrible had happened. I
    think it's the tongue-tied, awkward silence we hate.”