After my last post, my friend Caren asked me to post about what things are helpful to a cancer patient. After reading the feedback from the last post, I am doing so now. There are a number of things that cancer patients, especially those going through chemo and have children, find helpful and appreciate during our journey.
1. Be specific. Instead of saying “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” make a specific inquiry. Asking “When would be a good day to bring you dinner?” is much better. So is “I would love to watch your children while you go to see your doctor. When is your next appointment?” I know I personally am so overwhelmed by what I’m not getting done, so if someone puts a general inquiry out there I’ll tell them I’ll get back to them simply because I’m too overwhelmed to decide what’s important. By giving me a specific request for help that requires more than a yes or no answer, I can provide a response that is specific to me and the person offering help. The best question I ever got came from a homeschool mom I know whose husband is a pastor. She offered to have the youth group come and help us for a Saturday by spring cleaning. I will NEVER turn down an opportunity for someone to clean my house. I can’t stand the smell of most cleaners right now (they make me extremely nauseous) so that will be a huge help. My friends Kelley, Sue and Karena are always looking for opportunities to watch my sons. My friend Cathy always asks if I need a friend to go to my lab appointments. Cancer patients need help and we don’t want to bother people. By making a specific offer, you allow the patient to tell you what they need.
2. Send a card or e-mail. My friend Denise B. knows how to make me smile. A couple of times a month she sends me a handmade card (she loves to make cards and one day I’m going to have her show me how). They always come when I’m feeling especially low and they always cheer me up. She also asks about bringing us dinner. My Facebook friend Lisa, who survived ovarian cancer, messages me a couple of times a week to check in. She knows I may not be up to responding, but she sends me a quote or picture or just a heart with the word HUG to let me know she’s thinking about me. My BFF Sue posts inspirational posts on my FB wall. These acts don’t take more than a minute to do, but they mean so much to someone who is stuck in the house because they feel lousy post chemo treatment or, as in my case, stuck because my neutrophils (white blood cells that fight infection) are so low I can’t leave the house because I could get very sick.
3. Pray for us. I’ll be honest, there are times when, as I’ve told my friend Cathy (another cancer survivor), that I feel like a piece of gum that God scraped off the bottom of his shoe and tossed aside. Now, I know that’s not true. I have a very vivid image in my head that I lean on based on the Footprints story. Jesus and I are walking on the beach and right now we’re just sitting watching the waves because, quite frankly, that’s about all I can handle. He reaches over and squeezes my hand or give me a hug, but we rarely speak. We don’t have to. He knows how I feel and that there are times when I just can’t pray. The prayers of others have lifted me out of the dumps more times than I can count. You don’t even have to let someone know. As Nike says, “Just do it!”
4. Pray for our husbands or wives and children. As my friend Cathy tells me, husbands get our tears and fears. I can put a happy face on when I go out or when people bring us a meal, but he sees me during and after chemo when my body aches so bad and I’m so nauseous that moving in bed is a monumental effort. At this point, he is definitely being supportive husband as well as taking on the duties of both parents. He cooks, cleans, shops and is a caretaker, which is not a normal role for men. In many ways, his role in treatment is so much more difficult than my own. My children are young, but they know that Mom needs to nap and has a tough time doing the things she used to do. And they are tired of it. As much as I need prayer, they need it just as much, if not more. Family is my number two reason for going through the hell of chemo (not wanting to die is number one). I need them to be tough right now. It’s especially difficult for one of my sons who’s a control freak. He can’t control cancer and it drives him nuts. As a result, he controls everything else in our house which drives the rest of us crazy. Praying for our families is as important as praying for the patient.
5. Ask how we’re feeling. Now I need to put a caveat on this one: if you don’t really want to know or expect a blanket, I’m fine, don’t ask. I will tell people I’m very tired, been nauseous or that I’m feeling pretty good. If I say I’m tired, it’s fine to say “I hope you get some much needed rest soon.” If I’m feeling good, you can say “You look like you’re feeling better today.” I have no clue how to respond to someone who’s nauseous. My husband has resorted to saying, “Is it time for an Ativan?” which is the only anti-nausea medicine that works for me. My mom asks if I have enough 7-Up.
I can’t begin to count the number of people who have offered specific things or gone out of their way to try to make this journey easier for us. And they have, without knowing it, done these exact things. The most difficult thing I’ve learned is to accept help from others. I love to cook and it’s hard for me to accept a meal. I’ve always taken care of my kids and it’s tough for me to let others drive them places without feeling like I’m imposing. My friend Kelley tells me that’s what the body of Christ is supposed to do, take care of each other. And the body that surrounds my family is a living, breathing example of Jesus’ ministry in action.
For those of you who’ve stepped out and helped John, Kyle, Braeden and I, we cannot begin to thank you enough. You have helped us through a journey that we never wanted to take, but has shown us the kindness of both friends and strangers that we can never repay. Thank you and God bless!