Ways You Can Support Newly Diagnosed Cancer Patients

Since our early days, the cancer-survivor community has welcomed us with open arms. During cancer treatments, the body becomes extremely sensitive to many common ingredients. Because of this, we’ve had many cancer survivors send us testimonials of how gentle PiperWai is on their skin during treatment. The body is put through a lot during treatment, and we are happy that our natural deodorant is one less thing to worry about during these trying times.

We are so honored to be part of their fight and journey and it’s been a mission of ours to show appreciation to these special customers.

In honor of National Cancer Survivors Day (June 3), we asked wonder woman Kate Martin to provide a guest post on how we can all better support newly diagnosed cancer patients. 

In April of 2017, I wrote an email to my closest group of friends with the subject line “Spoiler alert: this message is a bummer” and told them the news that I had been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer. I was 42 years old, with no family history or genetic predisposition for cancer. As a single mother of a two year old, this meant that I put Katy Perry’s “Roar” on repeat in my head and kicked it into guns-blazing mode immediately. Four months of chemo, a bilateral mastectomy, and six weeks of daily radiation later, I’m out the other side with a Frankenstein level of scars on my body and an amazingly healthy head of hair. Street cred and not a single split end? Thanks, cancer!

Having recently been on the front lines, my friends at PiperWai asked me to share some tips for supporting loved ones who have been diagnosed with cancer. Like most independent women, I’m not awesome at asking for help. Cancer gave me no choice but to get comfortable with accepting it, and thankfully, I had dozens of people helping to lighten the load. 

It can be difficult to know what to say or do for someone who has been diagnosed with cancer, but I’m going to make one very strong recommendation on this topic. No matter how genuinely you mean it, try to avoid uttering any version of the following phrase:    

“Let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.”  

Cancer patients have enough to worry about without having to tell you how to be a good friend. Think about what might currently be challenging for this person and SOLVE THE PROBLEM FOR THEM.

Some things to consider:

Bring food

This one is obvious, but cancer appetites can be funky. Cravings and aversions can change on a dime, so it's  best to offer a couple menu options before showing up with shrimp scampi. If you plan to bring food for their freezer, make sure they have space first. If you’re not local or you’re terrible at cooking, send a gift card for take out or a meal-delivery service so they can choose what they want, when they want it.

Take the kids out

One of the best text messages I received during the chemo phase read “can I take your kid out for the afternoon next Saturday at 2 p.m.?” SO MUCH YES. I was beyond grateful not having to ask for this kind of help. While I slithered around the house barely able to get off the couch, it made me so happy to get real-time photos of my friends and my boy out on adventures together.  

Provide some entertainment

My godmother sent a curated collection of books that I’m still working my way though. They’ve been wonderful when I have enough brain cells firing to read actual literature, but let’s be honest, I operate at an "US Weekly" level most days, even when I’m not battling a life-threatening illness. Whether it’s books, magazine subscriptions, podcast recommendations, YouTube videos or memes, send anything you think might give your friend a moment of distraction from the bummer train.

Celebrate milestones

One friend sent me text messages every single Chemo Tuesday reminding me that I was a badass. Another flew across the country to escort me to the last of my 28 rounds of radiation. Treatment can feel like it’s never going to end, and having people consistently check in and show up means everything.

Make daily life less hard

If you can help your friend with the mundane chores of life, do it. Mow the lawn, clean the house, do the laundry, take the car for an oil change. I set my mother up with a copy of my credit card, sent her every single medical bill without looking at it, and thanked my lucky stars for good coverage and an out of pocket max that didn’t bankrupt me. (Side note: if your loved one doesn’t have great health insurance or can’t work while they’re in treatment, ask them if you could organize a crowdfund on their behalf. Cancer is a jerk, but the souls who determine what to charge in the name of saving your life are the real enemy.)

Try not to gift carcinogens

Sending baskets with lotions and bath salts is a common and lovely idea, but do your research and be sure that they are clean and nontoxic products. Sites like Follain and Credo have done the hard work for you and vetted all their products to be sure that they don’t contain ingredients that have been linked to cancer.

Become a research assistant

Maybe they need to find books to read to their child that will help them process what’s going on at home. Perhaps there are grants, support groups or local resource programs in their area offering services that would be helpful. Ask what’s causing them stress and send links, applications or ideas that will create space for them to focus on healing.

Record the memories

Hands down the most generous and thoughtful gift I received after my diagnosis was a professional photo shoot. We did mine after the first round of chemo, just before I lost my hair, and there are no words to describe how much they mean to me. I wanted my son to have those images later, so he’ll know that there was no fear in my eyes in those moments. What he will see is love, joy and my pride in being his mama. When I was at my lowest, completely bald and void of eyebrows, lashes and breasts, I felt so foreign in my own body. Looking at those photos gave me so much strength and reminded me that I would eventually look like that person again, no matter how far away it felt.

All of these tips are simple to do for someone newly diagnosed with breast cancer. But even though they are simple, the mere act of putting in that extra effort to make life easier for a loved one means the world. I hope just by talking about it, we can create a more supportive and action-forward community for those we love. 

Kate Martin is an interior designer living in Boston and working in sales. She is currently plotting a mission to get clean beauty into the hands of breast cancer patients. Follow her on Instagram @zoemetro.