I had three young kids, a budding writing career, and a house to maintain. I drove my kids (ages 4, 10, and 12) to every sports practice and school function. I made dinner almost every night. I’d secured a publisher and was writing my fourth book. I managed to keep the house clean even though I lived (and still do) with loveable slobs. I rarely needed help because I was a doer, always on the go, and proud of what I could juggle.
The World Turns Upside Down
“It’s ovarian cancer.” Those words changed everything.
Suddenly, I could hardly walk with the pain of abdominal surgery. I couldn’t drive because of the heavy doses of medication I needed to fight off nerve pain. And I was deep-in-my-bones exhausted from surgery, chemo, and fear.
I needed help. But I didn’t want help. I wanted to be able to juggle everything just like before.
I was VERY fortunate that I had people around me who wanted to jump in to assist in any way they could. Meals started showing up on my doorstep. Emails and phone calls came with well wishes, prayers, and offers to cart my kids around. A neighbor volunteered to walk my rambunctious dog twice a week. My preschooler’s teacher would take her home to play after school so I could rest. The outpouring was humbling. It also made me cry with frustration.
Granted, I cried a lot then, from pain and fear of leaving my kids without a mom. But these tears of frustration were bitter. I was a mom, wife, and daughter who had her sh*t together. Who was never late, never forgot appointments, and always volunteered to help out at school.
And all of that crumbled. I became the poor mom who had cancer and couldn’t take care of her kids and house and barely herself. The cancer had stripped away yet another layer of my identity. I found myself angry and bitter -- at my body that refused to work, at my slipping memory, and at my crippling fear.
I needed to wrap my head around the fact that things were going to be different during treatment and recovery -- different for me but also for everyone else in my immediate circle.
When someone is diagnosed, they aren’t the only ones who are hurt and afraid. Everyone who loves them feels helpless in the face of something as huge as a cancer diagnosis. Even strangers, who put themselves mentally in our shoes, feel helpless and panicked on our behalf.
So we need to look at accepting help from a different perspective. Those people, our friends and family especially, will benefit from being able to do something, anything.
Colonel Brandon in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility said it well when his love, Marianne, was gravely ill. “Give me an occupation, Miss Dashwood, or I shall run mad.”
This is not to make you feel guilty. Heavens, you have enough on your shoulders! This is to convince you that it’s good to accept help. It helps not only you but also those who love you.
So what tasks can you dole out to people who ask?
They say: “What can I do to help?”
You say: “You could please …”
- Walk my dog
- Pick up my kids from school or take them out for ice cream
- Send me funny cards to make me smile
- Leave flowers from your garden on the porch
- Organize meals for my family
- Make me encouraging posters to hang across from my bed (a great project for kids)
- Take me to chemo
- Come sit with me for an hour
- Help me figure out a way to organize all the financial information and forms
- Watch a funny movie with me
- Mow our lawn
- Check in with my spouse or primary caretakers to make sure they are doing OK
- Take our family’s trash cans down to the curb and back
- Join my team for the cancer awareness walk
- Let me borrow scarves or outrageous earrings
- Start a Caring Bridge account and give updates so I don’t have to
- Send me funny texts (I loved the ones that poked fun at cancer)
- Add me to your prayer lists
And remember to be gracious and thankful, even if they don’t do things like you did them. Or have a family member give out your thanks if you’re not up to it while you’re fighting so hard. When I was done with chemo, I hosted a Thank You Tea Party for everyone who supported us. Everyone brought some treat to share, and I was able to stand up and sincerely thank them for their support.
There is also help outside your immediate circle, which is especially important if you don’t have a support team at home. Ask your oncology nurse about support groups for those with your type of cancer. Meeting with others who are going through the same treatments and who have the same anxiety can be quite helpful.
For some people, support groups are wonderful. For me, however, hearing people who had more advanced cancer share their stories added to my anxiety because I easily imagined myself in their shoes. I still feel it’s very worthwhile to try out a support group and see if it helps.
Some churches offer assistance to those who don’t have a way to get to and from chemo appointments or a way to get prepared meals. If you search online for organizations to help cancer patients, services will often pop up. Cancer is a beast that affects many people, so there are organizations that can help. Please ask for it. No one should have to fight the battle for their life without an army behind them and a wingman or two (or 12).
Your main job is to fight the cancer, deal with the side effects, and survive. Give the rest of your jobs away for a while. It helps you and it helps others feel in control of something. It’s a win-win!
Photo Credit: Burak Karademir / Moment via Getty Images
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