How can I help

I have found out my son’s teacher has breast cancer and won’t be returning to the school after Christmas. I only know her as my son’s teacher although I know her sister quite well. She has been amazng to my son in his first few months at school and the news has been quite a shock. I really want to help but genuinely don’t know what if anything I can do. Any advice would be very gratefully received. I just don’t know if it is more appropriate I keep my distance as I really only know her in her professional capacity or if there’s anything I can do in a financial or personal sense? I have contact through her sister but she is only someone I see / speak to once a month or so. If anyone has any ideas of something that would be genuinely useful to help or cheer her up that would be great, or again if you think I would be intruding again that advice would be well received. Many thanks and good wishes to all. x

Hi Kj100

That’s lovely that you want to help. It’s so difficult to know what to advise as we’re all so very different in the way we react. I suppose if I tell you things from my point of view perhaps that will give you something to go by and I’m sure others will offer advice from their perspectives.

I didn’t want my family too closely involved because I was very aware of the stress it would cause and the potential impact on their health. It was therefore very fortunate that I had colleagues who are also my friends who rallied and looked after me when needed.

I think maybe the best thing to do would be to mention to her sister your offer of help. You could send her a card with your telephone number or email on - two of my neighbours did this in case I needed any immediate help that my friends wouldn’t be able to quickly attend to and that took some worry away from me (I live a few miles away from even my nearest friends and my family are much further away). If you said you were available to do practical help or just be someone she can talk to if she feels like it then she can contact you if she wants, or not otherwise, but it’s reassuring to know there’s someone there if needed/wanted. Sometimes it can be difficult getting to hospital appointments so you may be able to offer lifts. It’s now easy to do online shopping so as to avoid getting into crowded places where she may come into contact with bugs but you could offer to collect shopping if needed, my colleagues and neighbours offered and there were occasions when I just needed an odd item or two that I couldn’t just get online. I had friends who fetched me home cooked food - that was always nice as there were days when I couldn’t stand up for more than a couple of minutes at a time and it could take me 10 minutes just to get off the couch. My friend who’s had the same experience also used to bring me fresh fruit which was always refreshing.

I would say don’t ‘crowd or smother’ her, let her come to you if she wants. It can be really unpleasant and not at all helpful when people pressure you and visit for long periods when you’re in pain and very tired. It affected a friendship for me with someone (not a close friend) who thought they were being kind but was being overpowering and not at all understanding when I just needed to rest and have time to come to terms with the surgery I’d had and then when I tried to explain they took it badly and sent me a rather thoughtless email. We don’t speak anymore. So, if you do visit, keep it short - I would say maybe 15-30 minutes and you might be able to wash up or do something practical while you’re there.

The fact that you are prepared to offer help and show you appreciate all she has done for your son I think will be a real tonic for her even if she doesn’t actually call on you for help. It’s so nice to know that people care.

Best of luck and thank you for your good wishes to the rest of us who you don’t know. I hope you have a very happy and healthy 2013.

Can I reply from the perspective of someone who works in school and has been through the BC roller coaster this year. It is fabulous you want to help but you need to let her keep her professional distance if she wants to. I told all my family, friends and colleagues of my diagnosis but I didn’t want the kids or parents at school to know. This made going back much easier for me. It made putting it all behind me, at least while at work, easier.
However, in the same situation, I would have appreciated a card or message of support - perhaps via the sister, or maybe through the school? I found that people cared and wanted to help even if I didn’t take up their offer!
Offer support and let her decide whether she wants you to help. She may well feel more comfortable keeping your relationship on a strictly professional level, so don’t be offended if she wants to keep her distance. Also, please remember that she may not want her medical history discussed on the playground. She is entitled to her privacy.
You suggest financial help. She will be entitled to 6 months on full pay and a further 6 on half pay. Depending on her treatment plan, she may not even need all that. I was back after 4 months. You would make things very awkward for her if you offered money, anyway.
Perhaps a card and some flowers from your son’s class would be a nice idea?