I’m gonna love you through it. I said it when my best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago; thankfully she is still here today. I said it when family members subsequently entered the battle with different cancers and we had to say untimely goodbyes. I said it when friend after friend after friend begun the fight and emerged a survivor. Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among women (heart disease is number one), but the rates are dropping. Earlier diagnosis through screening, increased awareness, and better treatments are all making a tremendous difference. The American Cancer Society stated “at this time, there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States.”
Just like as quietly as it sneaked in before, cancer has once again invaded the lives of those I love. Friend after friend after friend has recently entered the battle. With each diagnosis, I vow to love them through it … learning, doing, helping, praying, and being a voice of hope. It is a delicate balancing act for survivors and those who walk alongside them.
The “cheer up” messages flood in, parking themselves right alongside sadness, worry, and fear. Personal stories and unsolicited advice add to a chock-full mind. Well-intentions can turn into overwhelming upkeep. One person wants details, another not so much, and the decision to share with who can be overwhelming. As one survivor put it, “I said I was going to get cards printed up saying what kind of cancer I had and what treatment I needed. I know people cared, but I got sick and tired of repeating the same story every time someone asked…” (cancer.org)
“God never gives you more than you can handle” is among the worst things people say. It is just flat-out WRONG! Yes, God does give us more than we can handle. Otherwise, what need would we ever have for Him! In fact, when we are not able to handle things ourselves is an opportune time to see Him in others. Unfortunately, unhelpful things said and weighty (unrealistic) expectations can make us pull away from the support of others when we need it most.
There’s no doubt. Loving them through it is a delicate balancing act. Some will steer clear for fear of not knowing what to say or do, or being afraid to say or do the wrong thing. And yet, it can be as simple as, “What can I do to help?” Or, “may I bring your family a meal?” (And, What foods do you prefer being chemotherapy can affect one’s sense of taste and smell?) Or, “Is there something specific you want me to pray for?” Or, “please don’t hesitate to let me know when/if you need something. I will check back with you too.”
Cancer often sneaks in quietly, invading our loved ones’ lives seemingly out of nowhere — but we must not let it render us silent, too.
Here are 5 reasons to not keep quiet.
- Odds are, sooner or later, cancer will hit home (for the first time or once again). Each time you love someone through it, you are being the voice of hope you too will crave to hear someday – whether during cancer or another difficult journey.
2. The learning, doing, helping, praying, and loving you are doing today is teaching the generation to follow. Your children (and grandchildren) are watching. When cancer is hushed, children in the mix are hushed too. What isn’t communicated When Your Mom Has Cancer, can manifest as fear, self-blame, doubt, and anger (to name a few). Kids are smart; they know when something is awry with someone they love. Everyone can do something. Go here to help them be part of the healing journey. They are, in fact, tomorrow’s caregivers.
3. Doctors practice medicine better, and loved ones receive it more fully, when advocates are present. On average, patients receive 12 seconds before being interrupted by physicians, and patients lose up to 50% of the conversation when bad news is in the mix. Help your loved one by making notes ahead of and during medical appointments. Use your voice – share concerns, ask questions, suggest a follow-up or 2nd opinion where/when appropriate. (And, carefully consider the best use of the time available.)
4. Cancer doesn’t end with a diagnosis. The road ahead, during and after treatment, can be an arduous one. Too many people stop calling, stop checking, and seem to stop caring. Those who helped at first lose sight of the fact that cancer is a journey that takes time, often years. Stay plugged in, somehow, someway.
5. Talk about more than cancer. One of the most profound things my best friend said as I was loving her through it was, “Thank you for talking about other things. Normal, every day things that have nothing to do with cancer. I need distraction. I need to dwell on things that have nothing to do with it. I need to laugh.”
I said it before, and I’ll say it again and again, I’m Gonna Love You Through It. This week begins another journey of cancer knocking too close to my own door. It has invaded another loved one’s house. No matter how much we want to “Shh” cancer, it’s going to be among us. I have mixed emotions; the faces of grief are as clear as they been in loving my mother through Alzheimer’s. You see, difficult journeys will come and go, as will boomerang blessings. What you give really does come back to you. Choose to join the army of care. There is strength in numbers. Together, we can love them through it all.