February 4 is World Cancer Day, a day for everyone around the world to ask themselves what they can do to help reduce the burden of cancer. Using the theme “We Can. I Can.” to spur discussion, World Cancer Day is a time to recognize that everyone can do their part to make a difference. In this month’s From the Editor’s Desk, 2015–2021 Cancer.Net Editor in Chief Dr. Lidia Schapira describes how she has seen individuals make a difference in the lives of people with cancer.
As a clinical oncologist, I learned early on that one of the most important things I could do for my patients with breast cancer was to ask their spouses or partners how they were coping and to offer assistance. Another was to reassure my patients that they didn’t need to worry alone and that we could talk and think through difficult choices as a team. Cancer clinicians can help by giving their expert advice and treatment, as well as by delivering support to patients and caregivers.
“Tell me how I can help.” This simple statement is a good way to start a conversation with anyone, be it a patient, a friend, or a colleague. Many of us are moved to help a co-worker or neighbor who has been diagnosed with a serious illness or who is going through a personal crisis. But we also want to help without intruding or offending. This statement can help open the conversation so that they can talk about what they feel comfortable discussing.
In many cases, we can be that special “go-to” person for a friend or co-worker by offering to help solve problems, by helping them with time-consuming tasks, or by being a good listener. I have seen families and groups of friends come up with practical and creative solutions to maintain normalcy for a family when a parent is being treated for cancer or for a co-worker who needs help getting through chemotherapy. We can help by drafting newsletters or emails to keep relatives and friends informed, by putting together schedules that assign caregivers to shifts, by helping organize medical files and expense reports, by driving patients to treatment or appointments, or by organizing drivers or well-wishers to deliver meals to a patient and her family.
Do not underestimate the importance of providing companionship. Letting someone talk and even vent frustration or express sorrow can be very comforting. Just sending a card, making a phone call, or delivering a meal can show you care. Every person is different, so there is no single recipe for offering help and support.
One doesn’t have to personally know someone with cancer to make a difference. Cancer survivors can become peer counselors—or “buddies”—for people who have been recently diagnosed. Anyone interested in supporting community and advocacy groups may find opportunities to help increase awareness of specific cancers or support more research. Others may be more interested in helping provide home-based and community services. From tai chi to knitting groups, to journaling and meditation classes, community agencies offer many ways to support those living with cancer and their loved ones.
We can all help. We can raise awareness of the importance of screening and early detection. We can fight for better science education in schools and more funds for research. We can dedicate ourselves to finding better treatments and improving the quality of life for patients and caregivers. And we can reach out to somebody we know today and just say, “Tell me how I can help.”