I bet you think bringing a meal to your friends with cancer is one of the most helpful ways to help– well, not necessarily.
But we'll get there in a minute.
First, big kudos to you for reading this; you're trying to do something extraordinary for your friend has cancer. You want to help but have a sense that there are other, more meaningful ways to support a friend with cancer than the usual.
And you're right!
Food is a great way to help but bringing a meal may be the least helpful thing that you can do!
"But how can that be?" you ask.
In our society, when someone is in crisis, we go to food. Why?
Think about what food means. Close your eyes and think about your favorite meal. Imagine how good it smells. Imagine your anticipation as you think about putting it in your mouth, the aroma, the excitement of eating your favorite dish. Is your mouth watering yet? Then you take your first bite, and the angels sing! After finishing it off, you sigh, sit back in your chair and say to yourself, out loud, "Wow, that was so good!"
That feeling of deep satisfaction, of being full and content, is why we bring food to those in crisis. We know that food can be comforting.
But if you're going to help your friend through cancer, dropping off a meal may not be an excellent comfort bringer.
Some chemo attacks rapidly growing cells. And it's not discriminatory about what rapidly growing cells it goes after. Our body hair, tastebuds, and the little hairs that are in the small intestines are all fast-growing cells. (Yes, you have little hairs in your small intestine!)
Because chemo effects taste buds and the stomach. It changes what and how a person with cancer eats and can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. And that is why bringing a meal is not the best option!
My husband was an athlete who exceeded the recommended 8 glasses of water daily. About two weeks after his first chemo, the taste of regular water would make him nauseous! We had to get creative in flavoring his water so he could drink enough. (This was before all of those fancy water flavorings were invented.)
But, if your friend with cancer has a family, bringing over a meal can be extremely
helpful. So what can you do? Well, below are three alternative ways to help with food that
your friend with cancer will probably appreciate.
#1 Drive by Grocery Shopping.
This is my favorite tip because one of my helping superpowers is grocery shopping.
(Everyone has several helping super powers!)
Here is how to do a drive-by grocery shop.
An hour or less before you head to the grocery store, call your friend with
cancer and say, "I am going to the grocery store in a few minutes. Open up
your cabinets and fridge and tell me what 5 things you are almost out of. I'll
pick them up and drop them off."
Then pick them up and drove them off!
I love this tip because it is so easy and helps your friend get what she wants,
not what you or others think that she needs.
I remember when Art had cancer the second time, I was boiling water to cook pasta for dinner for the kids. I walk over the pasta holding cabinet, open it and realized … we have no pasta.
And that's one reason it's a great tip.
The second reason it's a great tip because it's drop-and-run help. When you offer to pick up groceries, make it clear that you intend to drop them off and not linger.
Your friend with cancer needs the option to engage if they want. It's exhausting to have cancer. Not only do the cancer and treatment exhaust your friend, but conitue to answer the “How are you?” question can be draining. There are plenty of days your friend is conversation-ed out. If you are simply dropping off groceries, it allows her to start a conversation if she wants to, instead of forcing it because she feels obligate. (You just dropped off groceries!).
(That's why buying a cooler to place by the front door is so vital. Listen to this tip here to learn why.)
#2 Leave the Spices Off!
I know I just told you not to bring food to your friend with cancer. But if she wants a meal, then follow this tip. Make the food as bland as possible. Like I said earlier, chemo changes everything; even mild salsa can upset a chemo patient's stomach. So, if they want to eat, be sure to leave the spices on the side.
Keep it simple!
If you're bringing food for the whole family, you can spice it up for the rest of the family and a spice-less optional portion for the your friend with cancer.
#3 Make a grocery shopping list for …everyone!
What kind of cereal do you like? Is there a kind of milk that you drink? Well, the same is true for your friend with cancer. In my book, Act of Love #35 is titled If She Eats Jif, Don't Buy Skippy.
Here is what I mean by that – grocery shopping is immensely helpful. But if you have to call every five minutes to find out what brand she likes, you could be adding stress instead of relieving it.
Take the time to go through her cupboards and note the different brands that your friend buys. If she drinks organic almond milk from Costco, then not that so that so that you or someone else can buy her organic almond from Costco. This is not the time to find substitutes and say, "Hey, here's a healthier-looking cereal, I'll buy this instead."
Remember, food brings comfort, and your friend with cancer is no different!
When you create a detailed list like this, you are not just helping her, you are helping all those future grocery shoppers! It would be much easier to grab the right 5 things if you know what brands she already has!
I am writing this in September 2020. COVID-19 has taken over the earth so going into a friend with cancer's home poses a much greater danger than usual. But with the camera on her phone and the ability to text, you can make a great list without ever stepping foot in her house!
So there you have it! Three simple ways you can help with food!
But the most important tip of all is…to remember that you matter! You matter to your friend with cancer and to other people. Thank you for being willing to show up.