How to help a friend whose child has cancer

"Is there anything I can do to help?" It's normal to ask this if your friend's child has been diagnosed with cancer. Parents tell us they deeply appreciate the support they receive from family and friends. Here are some ideas on what you can do to help a friend with a child with cancer.

We asked parents "what advice would you give to friends of parents who have a child with cancer?"

Helping a friend when their child has cancer

It doesn’t have to be a grand gesture – the little things mean a lot. Bear in mind that your friend’s world will have been turned upside down and they may not know where to start when they are offered help. So make it easy for them. Make a specific and practical offer, like collecting the other children from school.

1. Let them know you’re thinking of them

Whether it’s in person, on the phone, Zoom, FaceTime or online – keep in touch. Knowing that you care really matters. They might not be able to reply but reassure them that you don’t expect a response.

Four months in I’m still getting regular ‘thinking of you’ texts. It gives me a real boost at the end of a long day.

2. Help with the other children

Can you collect their other children from school or nursery, babysit, or have them stay overnight? Having a child in hospital can upset the family routine and sometimes families may need to go to hospital at short notice, so having arrangements in place can really help.

Offers of childcare will not only help practically, but could offer siblings some distraction and fun. Parents often worry about siblings feeling left out, so outings and small presents can mean a lot.

3. Feed the family

If you can shop for groceries or prepare some home-cooked meals, that’s one less worry for parents. Meals that can be frozen and reheated later can be especially helpful.

Our friends got together and cooked home-made meals. The food was delivered to the door every Monday, for months – such practical help.

4. Give them a lift

There might be a lot of travelling between home and hospital, which gets tiring and expensive. Offering a lift could help take pressure off and give them some welcome company.

5. Treat them

At the hospital, the cost of meals, drinks and things like magazines can add up quickly. Find out what shops or restaurants are in or near the hospital, and buy a gift card.

6. Help with chores

When someone in the family is seriously ill, chores take a back seat. Offer to do some housework or gardening, walk the dog or run a few errands.

We were in hospital for five weeks, and when we returned home someone had come round and tidied the garden and done the lawn – it was such a wonderful gesture.

7. Handle the updates

Handling questions can be draining for parents, especially as they can feel they’re repeating the same information again and again. You could offer to make phone calls, answer emails or provide updates on social media. Check with parents what information they’re happy for you to share.

8. Make a care package

Parents tend to put their own needs last when their child is seriously ill. Why not create a gift parcel with a personal touch? Some nice toiletries and hand cream, or a box of healthy snacks, could be much appreciated. For the child, send several small gifts, which can be unwrapped as treats when they need a boost to help them face tests or treatment.

9. Give them a break

Once in a while, parents just need to get away for a little bit. If you’re visiting the hospital, persuade them to go for a walk, pop to the shops or have a coffee, while you sit with their child. Going to a film, a football match or for a walk in the park are a few ways to cheer someone up. Choose something they’ll enjoy and keep them company.

10. Do some fundraising!

Fundraising can be a great way to show support for the family. Whatever you like doing, there are many ways you can help raise money for children and young people with cancer. From running events and coffee mornings, to raising vital funds through schools, there is something for everyone.

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