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The "To Do" List to Pass On to Well-Meaning Friends

How to answer those "How can I help?" questions after a cancer diagnosis.

BY Don Vaughan
PUBLISHED March 08, 2014

Perhaps the most common reaction to the disclosure of a cancer diagnosis is an offer of help. But while such declarations might be sincere, they often come to nothing because either the patient or the friend or family member doesn’t follow through.

The solution: Be very specific when responding to such offers, says Jill Kaplan, an oncology social worker at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, N.J.

“Say to the support person, ‘I would like you to make dinner tomorrow’ or ‘It would be helpful if you could take Johnny to school on Wednesday,’” Kaplan says. “Unfortunately, the patient is often so overwhelmed with trying to navigate this new normal in their life that it is hard for them to ask.”

Email blasts can be a good way of letting family and friends know what is needed and when. A personal website, such as those available through, or, can also be effective at communicating specific needs to those in a position to help. There are numerous chores and errands that friends and family can do if asked. They include:

> Cleaning house
> Washing clothes
> Ironing
> Doing yard work
> Preparing meals
> Giving rides to medical appointments
> Taking children to school or activities
> Shopping for groceries
> Caring for pets
> Tending to household finances
> Keeping other friends and family updated
> Assisting with treatment-related paperwork
> Identifying support services

Close friends and family will usually help, but don’t be surprised if other friends disappear during the cancer experience, Kaplan says. “It just becomes too overwhelming and scary to them,” she adds. “Patients are disappointed by that, but then they look at those people who did stick around, and they are surprised.”

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