(and it sure has been for me)
When someone we love encounters any speed bump in life, the impulse to solve their problem or take their pain can feel crippling at times because it’s not possible, even though we wish it were so. On this side of heaven, we will suffer, full stop.
I am a woman rich in friends and family who have been incredibly supportive during this odd time of life. Chief among my cheering squad and support team has been my rock, my Beloved. He has unwaveringly stood by my side, asked questions I wouldn’t think to ask, encouraged me when I was sad, assured me that I was still beautiful regardless of the number of boobs with which I was left by the end of this, and whether or not they were the same size. He held space for me to be sad, sat with me when we were both nervous, and just allowed me to feel the feelings as I felt them for however long I needed to feel them. He took on as much as he could take on, and was a soft spot for me to land when I had to take on the rest alone. And of course, because I love Jesus, I know I was never alone, but I’m talking about the physical experiences and medical needs.
My friends and family will never know what their kindnesses meant to me. There are so many people who reached out, and in doing so, they made me remember that I wasn’t alone. They were God’s hands and feet to me during this process.
As I want to help others who come behind me, I’m sharing what was helpful to me, since I was so well supported, and what I would recommend as both a patient and remind myself to do as a friend (based on my experience with cancer).
- Texts are great. Why? Sometimes patients have to share so much over the phone or have so many appointments that having a sweet text come in is just comforting. It’s always nice to know you’re on someone’s mind. I was often too mentally exhausted to want to speak to anyone. Especially right after diagnosis. I tend to turtle-in and retreat until I feel safe again. I suspect I’m not alone in this.
- Cards and letters are great. They encourage and can be re-read in low moments.
- It’s tempting to rush in and give help right away, and I was lucky in that I had tons of support right away. But cancer is also a marathon, not a sprint, and sometimes we won’t need help right away, but could really use a meal or a visit or a note a month down the road. For example, I was diagnosed in May, but most of August and September was in significant pain and fatigue from radiation. Was super grateful for a dinner brought by then, and for those who continued to check in.
- It can be awkward (for both sides) not knowing what to say. Here are some ideas of what worked for me and allowed me to share or not share as I felt able: “How are your spirits today?”; “How is your pain level?” ;”Do you want to go for a short walk?” ; “I’ve been thinking of you and want to know if there is anything specific I can pray for.”
- As a patient, it’s also hard to say the following, because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or be a drag on the friendship, but here are things I wanted to say sometimes: “I want to see you, but I am so slap worn out that I’d rather be in bed.” ; “I have nothing to give you right now, but please still check on me, because I’m feeling fragile and need to know you care.”
- Ideas for how to help/love/serve?
- Gift cards for Door Dash or Uber Eats are fabulous because they can be used by anyone in the house.
- Gift cards or sweat equity for yard work or housework or home caring- e.g. if it’s fall and you’re decorating your porch, grab a pumpkin for someone who isn’t feeling well. Or, if it’s Christmas time and you can afford it, grab an extra wreath for their door.
- If you have a tangible gift or service, just bring it or do it – do this rather than asking if they need anything. I almost always said I didn’t need anything because I didn’t NEED anything–or couldn’t think of a need offhand. But often those things we don’t need are still nice. “I’m bringing you dinner tomorrow. Do you have any allergies? Oh, tomorrow doesn’t work? Cool. I’ll freeze it and bring it by and you can eat it whenever.”; “I am taking your kids to the park and to ice cream tomorrow at 2 if that works for you.”; “These were my favorite reads over the summer, here. NO rush getting them back to me.” ; “I’m going to Costco. Do you need coffee, dog food, etc.”; “I’m dropping off margaritas in 20 minutes.” ; “I’m going to have a pedicure this Wednesday evening. Can I make an appt for you to come too?”
- By far, though, the biggest blessing was simply receiving any acknowledgement done in love. Truly. My feelings were very hurt when some people didn’t acknowledge what I was going through. But this was ever so eclipsed by those who did. Any gesture is better than nothing at all. I promise.
- Lastly, it was drilled into me to write thank you notes to people. “If you can accept the gift, you can write a thank you.” In theory, this is true. With the exhaustion of cancer, I often fell short in this department and felt so badly about it. Please know that your friend is very much grateful for anything you give. When they are feeling better, I know they will love you back in kind.