This isn’t my first time at the over-sharing rodeo. Blogging about my cancer journey on Facebook, in real time, had its advantages. Prior to my diagnosis, I made the conscious choice to share my biopsy experience and it just unfolded from there. Sharing experiences and photos, both good and bad, had a calming effect on me. I felt completely connected and supported by a large group of people whenever I decided to reach out. I was transparent in sharing every fear, challenge, setback and triumph.
Most of the time, I injected humor into the mix so the posts wouldn’t drag anyone down. Humor was a huge component to my mental survival during the ordeal, and it still is today. Laughing in the face of the beast and finding the humor in every situation helped me to get out of bed everyday and systematically complete each stage of treatment with my sense of humor intact. I realize that being so transparent is an unconventional choice and not for everyone, but it worked for me.
Another positive by-product of all this over-sharing was an army of people coming forward to offer assistance. In the past, I had had difficulty accepting help from others, but cancer changed all that. I am fortunate to live in a community of extremely caring people. The amount of care and support that I received is mind-boggling and a true testament to the generosity of the human spirit.
People that know my story often look to me when someone close to them gets diagnosed with cancer. I am not kidding when I tell you that I usually receive two emails or calls a week about this. The question that they ask me the most is “How can I best help my friend/Mom/sister/cousin/daughter/niece or neighbor?” My answers usually surprise them. In my experience, it isn’t always the commonplace or predictable things that cancer patients want or need.
COORDINATE CARE NEEDS: Step number one should be starting a page at www.lotsahelpinghands.com. This website offers easy-to-use tools to coordinate care needs and takes the scheduling headaches completely away from the person battling. One coordinator is needed to post the battler’s care needs on the calendar. That way, the battler only has to communicate with one person. Through the website, volunteers receive regular emails when care needs are posted and can sign up for what they are able to do. I had about 150 volunteers on my LHH page that provided necessary and much-appreciated meals, playdates, rides to treatment and more for a year and a half!
MEET THE BATTLER RIGHT WHERE THEY ARE: On the emotional front, the biggest help to me were the friends and family willing to meet me right where I was emotionally on any given day. When speaking with a cancer battler, you want to be positive, but you also want them to feel that it's okay to vent, cry or be fearful. After that brief meltdown, they can then pick up the pieces and press on. It is very important for them to be able to feel everything as they go through it. Sometimes just sitting with the battler and listening, or even talking about topics other than the cancer is most appreciated. I sometimes resented when people would tell me to "stay positive" at times that I just wanted to vent. Let the battler set the pace.
SOMETIMES THE BATTLER DOESN’T KNOW WHAT THEY NEED: Keep in mind that your loved one may not be able to verbalize or have the energy to ask for what he/she needs. Don’t bother asking the cancer patient what they need…just DO! I loved when someone would unexpectedly bring me lunch and eat with me. Having company was key to me not feeling isolated. Treatment is a scary and extremely emotional thing to go through and it helps to have simple gestures and fun surprises to brighten your week. Most cancer battlers experience major changes to their regular routine and the sense of loss that one feels is maddening. Suddenly, you are faced with many hours in the day to fill. I wasn’t able to read or watch television during chemotherapy because I couldn’t concentrate well enough. Because I only had the energy to do things in short spurts, boredom often set in. Luckily, I had many people in my circle of support kind enough to drop by to say hello, take me for short drives or call on the phone. These small gestures became my lifeline and gave me strength to press on. Don’t underestimate the power of a simple, kind gesture. One day, I was having a particularly bad day and I posted on Facebook that I needed a Snickers. While I meant for this statement to be amusing, it yielded three Snickers bars delivered to my door within the hour! I still laugh about that.
OFFER TO GO TO MEDICAL APPOINTMENTS: Doctor appointments are frequent and overwhelming during a cancer battle. It helps immensely to have another person there to take notes and help to interpret the information.
REACH OUTSIDE YOUR SOCIAL CIRCLE TO HELP: Supportive personal relationships are instrumental to emotional survival during any cancer battle but not everyone has a large social circle from which to draw support.. Why not reach out to someone in your community that you don’t know but have heard is battling? While I had many friends and family help out, there were also people I had never met before stepping up to provide support. Now I am lucky enough to call them my friends and I will be forever grateful.
I could probably list many other things, but at least this is some food for thought. I am back at to work full-time and healing nicely from my surgery last week. I appreciate you reading this blog and I hope there is some meaningful advice here that can help other battlers. Thank you for all off your kind words of encouragement and support. FIGHT!