A friend asked me to share what pieces of cancer etiquette I wished everyone knew. Here’s my answer. I didn’t sugar-coat it. Cancer doesn’t come in that flavor, neither do my tips, which are mine. Your mileage may vary.
I think some of it's different depending on the type of cancer and treatment. For example, when my husband completes his transplant, our lives will be akin to that of the Boy in the Plastic Bubble because of his lack of immune system. To some extent, our lives are that way on a smaller scale now following each chemo cycle. I wish people realized how immunocompromised people with cancer really are...how at-risk they put them when they don't get vaccinated, when they aren't courteous enough to cover their mouth when they cough/sneeze in public places.
I wish people understood that expecting me to return phone calls, emails, letters, text messages, etc., just adds more stress to my life. I love receiving an open-ended message of support, but don't add a request that I contact you back. Don't make more work for me. If you want to help, just do something. Drop off some cookies in a container you don't want back, some DVDs we can keep, take my kids somewhere for the day (because they are sick and tired of looking at these 4 walls and I can't always make the time to take them somewhere between doctor's appointments and running errands--playdates, the movies, the library, a sleepover).
If you make a meal for us, make it in a dish I don't have to return. I don't need anything else to keep track of, return, store, or wash. I know you mean well, the food was awesome, but I can't handle another "to do" on my list. Really. I've got mail here from November. If you want your dishes back, good luck with that.
I have a great sense of humor, but I'm a realist. If I say I want my kids home for Xmas because I don't know if we'll have a "next Xmas," don't tell me we will. You don't know that. No one knows that. Hell, none of us can guarantee we'll be here next Xmas, but I have some statistical evidence supporting my concerns. So, don't belittle my requests. Honor them even if they make you uncomfortable. I have to do what feels right for my family.
And a lesson I learned the hard way, don't avoid your friend or loved one thinking you'll get in touch after he/she is done with treatment because you don't want to be a bother (or whatever your personal reason might be). You might not get that chance.
If you’ve made these mistakes, even that last one, it’s not the end of the world. Really. Your heart was in the right place. I’m just passing along tips from the other side of the fence. It’s not fun to sit on either side; I know how helpless you can feel wanting to know what to do, what to say, and how to help.