Situation: A friend or relative has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. You'd like to help out, but you live too far away to offer hands-on support. What are some way you can offer long distance care and support?
A few generations ago, relatives lived close enough to keep up with and support each other, visiting often for holidays and celebrations. Good times and bad times were navigated together with familiar and dependable people. But in our modern industrialized society, families and friends don't always live near each other. Our friends from the neighborhood or from grade school or college might live out of state. We're more likely to meet online than in person and may talk over the phone rather than over the back fence. When cancer enters the picture, you can offer long distance support if you're willing to get creative. Here are some suggestions for giving cancer support across the miles.
Lend Your Ears: Call your loved one and listen without judging or blaming. Ask for updates, but don't press for every last detail unless they really want to talk. Sometimes a new patient wants to discuss their diagnosis, while others want to talk about routine, everyday events. Find out what comforts or encourages them - not you - and listen with your heart first and head last.
Do Your Geek Thing: If you know how, or can learn how, ask permission to set up or help update a blog or online journal for your friend in treatment. Make sure to include them as an administrator of the site, so they can make corrections or clarifications to entries. Once it is started, contact her friends and family, so they can subscribe for updates on the patient. See examples on these sites: Caring Bridge, Google eBlogger, or Word Press.
Put It In The Mail: Send cards of encouragement. These can be simple or silly, cheerful or serious. You can craft handmade cards or buy them for just about any price you care to pay. Write your best wishes and fond hopes and then mail those on a regular basis. Stuff the envelopes with gift cards for food, gas, online shopping sites, or include photos of good times you have shared. Cards and letters like these may bring good feelings and uplifted spirits, even when they are read for a second and third time. Make an effort to keep in touch - keep the relationship healthy.
Get a Little Goofy: Send silly gifts if you think she might like those. A friend who was a new survivor sent me a stuffed toy, in the shape of a fuzzy chenille puppy. At first I was stumped, as it looked like a gift for a kid. But it gave me a grin and brought comfort when I was alone and just needed something to hug. When my sister was recovering from chemo, I got her a sexy red costume wig to wear. Even though she was feeling low at the time, it made her and her husband smile and laugh. Use your imagination and take a chance on a goofy gift.
Be Entertaining: When you can't be there as your charming self, send some entertainment. Send books, music, movies or games. You don't have to spend a fortune to do this - find a store that sells "previously viewed" items or gently used books. Pick a theme that is upbeat or engrossing and avoid topics that are negative or that might cause a fit of the blues. If the item brings up a good memory that you share, send along a note about that special time. Make it personal and tasteful.
Put A Lid On It: If your friend has had chemo hair loss, knit or crochet some caps, whip up a scarf or shawl, or sew a personal-sized blanket. Put your presents in a sturdy tote bag that can be taken along to treatments. Tuck in some mints, hand sanitizer, and soothing teas. Hide a good novel among the goodies, and send it off. This kind of gift is a feel-good bomb!
Clean Up By Remote Control: Look up house-cleaning services in her area, and arrange to pay for a day of getting the dirt, junk, mess, and general untidiness taken care of by professionals. If one cleaning session goes over well, consider sponsoring another one! A gift like this benefits everyone in the house - the patient as well as the caregiver and all the family.
Make A Flying Visit: If at all possible, go visit your friend or loved one. Make sure to contact them or their family members before you plan your trip, so you can pick the best time for all concerned. Ask about ways you can provide respite and help with driving, cooking, and other chores while you are there. Book your tickets, pack some presents, and make the trip. It's the best way to say, "I care and I support you!"