In today's world, most everyone knows of a person suffering from cancer. It may be a loved one, a close friend, or just someone you know at church or from your kids school. The closer they are to you, the harder that initial punch is to the gut. For me, the hardest punch came from my sister. She said "I have stage four breast cancer." I thought my heart was going to break. Then I said, "Well, let's start fighting".
And fight she did. She underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation. For a year and a half, it was a constant battle for her. Just to muster enough energy for the therapy appointments, living on popsicles because that was all she could keep down, trying to keep up her spirits and keep smiling...when all she wanted was for life to feel normal again. Her life was forever changed. She had to find her new "normal".
But she made it. She had beat it. She had won and life was getting better. Then, it returned. This time in her bones. They found it when she broke her collar bone just turning in her bed. Luckily, they have caught it early and think that it can be treated with just radiation.
Recently, I spoke with her and realized she was upset. Asking what was wrong, she replied that there are so many hurtful comments. Some from people who enjoy to demean and hurt people, and some who believe they are saying or doing the right thing. So, after hearing her out and letting her vent, I began writing this. Here are some of just a few things that should never be said to a person fighting cancer.
- "You just want attention." "You don't look like you have cancer." "You have gained weight, shouldn't you be losing some?" Now, I realize that there are some sick people who would make this terrible lie up in order to receive attention, sympathy, and money. However, that is not the norm. No one wants cancer. No one wants to go through the surgeries, chemo, drugs, radiation, being stuck constantly with needles, feeling tired, being sick.... You see where I'm going with this right? Everyone's body reacts differently, the medications vary, treatments vary, and how one's body reacts varies, as well. Get that picture of a bed ridden, frail, and thin cancer patient out of your head. There is one thing that they all have in common, though. They have cancer. They are all suffering at a deeper level than what you may see on their social media posts.
- "Don't think about dieing, just concentrate on surviving and living life to it's fullest." "Keep happy thoughts!" These usually come from well meaning people who believe they are being supportive and caring. And while it is true that keeping your spirit up will aid in survival, no one can always be cheerful and hopeful all the time when their own bodies have betrayed them. The other side of "fighting to survive" and "living life" is in fact death. And I'm sure there is not a cancer patient out there whom has not considered the possibility of the cancer killing them. It remains a possible outcome throughout their diagnosis, treatments, and remissions. How can it not? In order to fight effectively, you have to know what exactly you are fighting for. Every cancer patient I have ever met, knew precisely what they were or are fighting for.
- "Why can't you get a job to help with your expenses?" Now, a lot of people can work while battling cancer, even if only part time. But, some, simply can not. There may be days at a time when the patient is in severe pain, sick, and, in some cases have daily tests and/or treatments. All this combined does not make for an ideal employee. Depending on the situation, the caregiver may have to stay close to home losing possible income. A lot of the medications do not allow driving while taking them, therefore, this usually falls on the caregiver. Multiple doctor appointments, additional blood work, tests, and pharmacy trips, can quickly take over a week!
So, what can you say or do to make their day just a little brighter? Well, there are lots of ways to show someone how much you care about them. I've narrowed the list down to my top favorites below.
Things you can do to put a smile on their face
- Pray for them. If you say, "I'm praying for you", then do it right then. I am a Christian and believe in the power of prayer. I'm not pushing an agenda here, just stating what I have experienced. I've seen and felt that amazing sense of peace, love, and security wash over when a prayer is being said. I know that there are some who do not believe, however, perhaps, those have never had someone truly and earnestly pray for them.
- Run an errand for them. Are you heading to the grocery store? The post office? The local dollar store? Give them a call before you leave. Ask. Do they need any stamps? Dish detergent? Toilet paper? Milk? Or maybe, some of those popsicles that is the only thing they can hold down? This is a simple gesture that will mean so much to them. It shows them how much you care about their daily needs.
- Ask the caregiver what you can do for them. Can you spare an hour or two to give them a chance to take a much needed break for themselves? Maybe, they need to run some errands, or just get out and enjoy a cup of coffee to relax for a little while.
- Send them a gift card. They are readily available everywhere now. It doesn't have to be much, just what you can spare. Money is tight. Some of these medications and treatments costs thousands a month, even with insurance! A gas card? Starbucks? Walmart? A pharmacy card? A phone card? Do they have PayPal? A go fund me page? They will truly appreciate the extra thought that went into your gift!
- Send a care package. This is one of my favorite suggestions. It is so lovely to get a small package from someone, especially if they don't live nearby! It doesn't have to be filled with extravagant gifts. Maybe include mints, crackers, gum, puzzle books, stationary, pen, crosswords, new slippers, DVDs, CDs, a collection of cards from family or friends, the list is endless. Remember, they could be spending a lot of time in the recliner or bed. Having a basket of goodies right next to them will be very helpful.
Of course, there are a hundred different other ways to brighten their day, but I will save more for another day! The best and most important way to show someone you care is to tell them! Don't let an opportunity to tell someone how much they mean to you pass you by. Life is to precious, and our time here is most definitely too short!