You just found out your loved one or friend has cancer. Your first thought: How can I help?
Your second and third thoughts: I don’t know where to begin. What if I don’t have a lot of money or time?
In the fight against cancer, there’s a place for everyone. With thoughtful choices that balance your interests, available time and resources, your cancer supporting role can make a difference in the life of patients, and in yours. As the various options below suggest, helping a cancer patient on their journey can mean taking one of your own.
Get active – For runners, golfers, cyclists, and other outdoor enthusiasts, there are numerous fundraisers that generate money and awareness. Find events in your community that match your avocation, schedule, and perhaps even the type of cancer affecting your friend or relative. Here’s a bonus: staying active can reduce your own cancer risk.
The arts – So you’re more artsy than outdoorsy. Look for galas, auctions, and concerts that combine a good time with a great cause. Can’t afford pricey benefit tickets? Check out volunteering opportunities.
For example, the 6th Annual Breast Cancer Awareness Bike, Run & Walk Foundation, inMcAllen raises funds for the Texas Oncology Foundation..
Blaze your own trail – Can’t find that just right activity? Create your own! Consider collecting sponsors to pledge funds for every mile you walk, or every touchdown your local high school football team scores. Plan a profit-sharing night with a restaurant, organize a dance-a-thon, or start a lemonade stand. Collect lollipops for chemotherapy patients or snack packs for oncology nurses.
Numerous cancer research and patient advocacy organizations need support. Confirm the legitimacy of your donation recipient, and choose opportunities that are meaningful to you.
Care for a caregiver – Providing respite for a caregiver is one of the best ways to help a cancer patient. Offer to mow a lawn, watch kids, or take a turn sitting with a patient to give the caregiver a break – add movie tickets or restaurant gift cards. Other ways to help include volunteering to run errands or doing household chores.
Volunteer your time and talents – Many cancer treatment centers, including Texas Oncology, match volunteers with patient needs. Volunteers can help coordinate with support groups, knit “chemo caps,” make blankets to keep patients warm, or read aloud to patients. Ask your local treatment center how you can help.
Make a statement – Organizations like Wigs for Kids (www.wigsforkids.org) and St. Baldrick’s Foundation (www.stbaldricks.org) use chemotherapy’s most visually striking side effect – hair loss – to raise awareness and help patients. Your long locks can be used to make wigs for children. St. Baldrick’s head shaving events also raise money for pediatric cancer research. Check with cancer advocacy groups for recommendations on similar programs for adults.
Time it right – The holidays are a time when many people often reach out to help those touched by cancer. But remember to find time during the “off season” for giving, when volunteering and support may be less prolific. You might find that cancer support activities during the summer, spring, and fall are more engaging and memorable than during the already hectic holidays.
Playing a supporting role in the life of a cancer patient is your chance to be a shining star, helping light the way along the difficult, occasionally dark journey that cancer patients endure.
By Alvaro Restrepo, M.D. / Texas Oncology–McAllen