When you watch a loved one recover from their battle with cancer, you can feel helpless. Without medical training, what can you do for your friend or family member? Don't let yourself believe that there's nothing you can do. Here are four thoughtful ways that anyone can support a cancer survivor.
Exercise is good for everyone. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the benefits of regular physical exercise include a greater life expectancy, better overall mood and lowered risk of cancer recurrence. Unfortunately, many Americans don't get the recommended amount of exercise.
Cancer survivors often struggle to start or resume an exercise regime. The survivor in your life might be suffering from fatigue, poor self-esteem or a lack of motivation. This is where you come in. Reach out to your loved one with fun, positive exercise suggestions. Ask if you can go for an evening walk together, invite them to a ballroom dancing class or start training for a 5k together. You can even seek out events specifically for cancer patients and survivors. Your family member or friend will appreciate your company, and you'll both benefit from the increase in physical activity.
Clean Up Their Sleep Hygiene
A recovering body needs sleep.
That's true whether you're fighting off the flu or finishing 12 weeks of chemotherapy.
Help the cancer survivor in your life practice healthy sleeping habits. Talk to them about the importance of sleep hygiene and make a plan to improve their sleep.
First, create a sleeping space that encourages good-quality rest.
Install blackout curtains, purchase new bedding if needed and move the television to the living room.
Second, change the settings on any electronics to reduce blue light exposure before bedtime. According to Harvard Medical School, blue light affects the circadian system, which determines when you sleep, and the body's production of melatonin, a hormone that helps with sleep hygiene.
If your loved one is older, you may need to handle this step on your own by downloading a free app to any cell phones, tablets or laptops.
Finally, set up a check-in system and commit to making the same changes in your life. You want to seem like a supportive friend, not a nag.
Get Tested Together
Hospitals and doctor appointments can cause anxiety in cancer survivors.
Medical procedures are often associated with pain and discomfort, making it hard for previous cancer patients to follow doctors' recommendations for follow-up testing.
The comforting presence of a friend can ease this mental discomfort.
If your loved one needs a colonoscopy, breast cancer recurrence test or any other screening, offer to get the same procedure performed alongside them.
Make the trip a better experience by stopping for a treat afterwards, whether it's ice cream or pedicures.
Start a Self-Care Program
Fighting cancer is a stressful experience. Survivors can become so focused on overcoming their illness that they neglect their mental health and ignore their rising levels of stress.
One of the best ways you can support the cancer survivor in your life is helping them practice self-care.
Stress management techniques are as varied as cancer management plans.
In general, encourage your loved one to focus on their mental well-being, whatever that means to them.
Some survivors respond well to traditional techniques like joining a support group, taking up meditation or starting a journal. Others need a more customized approach like regular chocolate deliveries or a bucket-list vacation.
Psychology Today has a helpful list of seven different types of self-care activities.
Ultimately, cancer survivors need many of the same things as everyone else: Exercise, sleep, and love from friends and family.
You don't need a medical degree to stop by for a visit or offer to start meditating together.
No matter how you choose to support the cancer survivor in your life, you can make a difference just by being there.