USA TODAY’s Nashville music critic Brian Mansfield was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 48. He now chronicles his life with the disease – and with only a small part of his colon – in a series of weekly installments.

Below is a segments from a recent article in USA Today titled My Semicolon Life: What to say to a Cancer Patient:

What’s the very best thing you can hear from a friend when you’ve got cancer?

“I’m coming over. What can I bring?”

My friend Ed calls me every week and asks me this. Ed is bigger than me and louder than me, and he puts me at ease because I know I’ll never have to worry about talking too much around him. When Ed thinks I haven’t asked for enough, he comes up with his own ideas.

The first time Ed came over, I asked him to track down a nutritional-shake powder at Whole Foods that people had recommended to me. Ed not only figured out what I was talking about, he also brought yogurt and smoothies and the very first copy of his new album. (I know it’s the first copy, because he numbered it.) When I couldn’t think of anything the next week, he showed up with a box of bagels, a couple of Bruce Springsteen bootlegs and an autographed album from J.D. Souther.

Everybody should have a friend like Ed.

One thing I have learned in my friendships with people battling a life-threatening illness is they need help. They might not know what help they need or how to ask or organize that help but they still need it.

The other thing I have learned is usually there are a lot of people who want to help but don’t quite know how.

If you are not very close with the family it would be difficult to engage in their lives in very intimate ways but there are many more general ways one can help a family with a life-threatening illness.  Here are a few ideas I have come up with:

1. Show up one day and pick weeds in the lawn or mow the grass.

2. Leave a styrofoam cooler with a few freezer meals on their front porch.

3. Make a CD of encouraging music and mail it to them.

4. Pray! Pray! Pray!  Pray for the sick parent. Pray for the caregiver/spouse. And pray for the children.

5. Mail a gift card for a local restaurant that delivers.

6. Organize a fund raiser.

It is difficult to watch people around you suffer but it is also a powerful opportunity to show people around you how much you care. Take your fears and worries and put them into action! The family will be blessed by it and so will you!