3 ways to show someone with health challenges that you care

The key is to avoid causing additional exertion or stress

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by Anna Jeter |

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When I was 3 years old, my family temporarily moved to Michigan because of my dad’s work. A year later, while we were still there, I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH). It was overwhelming to receive such life-changing news at a time when we were removed from family, friends, and other deeply rooted forms of social support.

Shortly after my diagnosis, my family received a box in the mail. It was sent by our old neighborhood friends back in Minnesota. The box was filled with several backpacks for me; there were Hello Kitty backpacks, princess backpacks, small backpacks, and large backpacks.

My mom remembers this gesture fondly. While we were dealing with a rare diagnosis that few could understand, our friends focused on one detail: I would need to wear a backpack to carry my new medication infusion pump. At a difficult time when we were far away, they had managed to reach out to us to let us know we had their love.

Fast forward to the past year, more than two decades later, and I’ve been facing some challenging seasons. In the middle of it all, a friend asked me to recall some of the meaningful ways in which people have cared for me and my family during difficult times. I’ve been asked this before and struggle to answer it. The truth is that when things are hard, all I want to do is return to my baseline.

Regardless, these caring gestures by others do help. Whether it’s a box full of backpacks or just dropping a card in the mail, there are lots of ways to show love to those who are facing difficult health journeys. Following are three things to consider if you want to help someone during a difficult period.

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I hesitate to talk about food because I believe it requires some context. Bringing food to someone’s home often comes with the expectation of interacting with the person or even entering inside. This can be overwhelming for the recipient.

There also might be a lot of dietary restrictions to consider. If you’re not familiar with the family’s food preferences, it might cause more trouble for the family than it’s worth.

However, if you do know the family well, finding a time to leave food on their doorstep is a good compromise. Bonus points for meals that are low-fuss or can be frozen and eaten later.

Another great alternative is gift cards. If the family is tending to someone in the hospital, DoorDash gift cards are wonderful. As someone who has a low tolerance for hospital food, especially when my appetite is already compromised, I rely pretty heavily on DoorDash during hospitalizations, which is an expense that can add up quickly.

For families at home, gift cards for their favorite restaurants are a great way to contribute to their meals at a time when ordering from restaurants or dining out might not be feasible.

Reaching out

I think that communication is also a complicated form of support that comes with some caveats. Talking with others and answering questions during times of distress can be incredibly exhausting, so I try to avoid engaging in much conversation when a friend is struggling.

Instead, I’ll send messages of encouragement or support that don’t include questions. This eliminates the pressure they may feel to respond. Even simpler than that, sending a funny or heartwarming meme can have just as much impact.

The goal is to let the other person know I am thinking of them without adding work to their day. If they are in a place mentally where they want to talk, the door is always open.

I think “snail mail” serves a similar purpose. I still have a box of letters I received when I was hospitalized during a heart and lung transplant in 2018. These letters are a tangible form of love and support that I continue to hold closely.

Organized support

You can also support loved ones without even involving them directly. After my transplant, a friend ran a marathon while wearing my initials on her arm. She sent me a photo that day, and it meant so much.

On a larger scale, friends can organize a walk or a run on behalf of the person. This helps to raise awareness and brings a sense of community to the fight.

Finally, there are always crowdfunding options like GoFundMe, which can provide financial help to a family in need.

When offering support, the goal should be to do so with something that can be accepted with little or no effort. Because I have a hard time determining what I need when times are tough, I greatly appreciate people who continue to show up for me and my family in quiet, caring ways, without us having to ask.

Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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