Caring Through Cancer
Recently a dear woman in my Bible Study was diagnosed with cancer and I experienced that feeling that I know many felt when I was going through my cancer treatments: I want to help, but how? It can feel overwhelming to know where to even begin because there is so much we want to do but feel at a loss as to what would really encourage.
Although I wouldn’t have chosen to walk through cancer, one benefit was experiencing the amazing generosity of so many people in my life. Because of the way people loved me, I feel more equipped in how to love others through challenging experiences. This is not to say I always do it well; I think one of the most difficult parts about supporting others is making the time and following through with the desire to encourage and help. It is definitely an area I am trying to grow in and asking the Holy Spirit to prod my heart when I need it.
I thought I would share some of the ways that people in my life encouraged me so that if you are looking for ways to bless those you love who have an illness, you have a starting point. Of course, this is far from an exhaustive list so please feel free to share if you have another idea to add.
Meeting Emotional Needs through Encouragement
Many amazing friends encouraged my mind and spirit in such creative ways:
One friend organized many people in my life to send me a note so that I would have something in the mail each day. Every day I would look forward to discovering who sent me a card or package. Being the words person that I am, I loved hearing from so many loved ones and I have kept all of the cards to this day.
Another friend decided my chemo journey was like a marathon and since she had run one, she wrote me a new narrative about my race each week. At the end of my chemo, she sent me her medal and other things to symbolize that I endured the race. It was such a thoughtful gesture and I will never forget it.
So many friends sent cards (whether they were a part of “Operation Encourage Michelle” or not) and they truly uplifted me. It is amazing how a simple card can go such a long way. (And now that I have just gone through the death of my Grandma, I am reminded how much it means!) I wish I had taken a photo of my pantry door in my kitchen when I was going through chemo because it was covered with the cards I had received. (If you look closely in the photo below you can see some of the cards hung on the doors.). I needed to see those reminders daily, and so appreciated that people took time out of their busy schedules to drop me a note in the mail.Flowers
I am not necessarily a flower-person but especially when I was going through an illness where so much felt discouraging, the sight of flowers was so uplifting. And it really is true: when there are no words, flowers speak. My aunt and friend gave me rose plants, which were thoughtful because they lived beyond my illness and were a constant reminder of their thoughtfulness and God’s faithfulness. Another friend sent us a fruit bouquet, which was along the same lines because it brought me great cheer but it was also practical because we had as much fruit as we wanted to eat!
Friends and family sent pajamas, slippers, movies, candles, sheets (to bring cheer to the hospital bed, pictured below) and so many other nurturing-type gifts. I still wear the pjs and when I do I think of how far I’ve come and it brings a deep sense of gratitude. Jared’s aunt knit me a prayer blanket to put on when I was cold and I so appreciated her labor of love. Big or small ways that people reached out encouraged my heart.
A couple of friends sent me some books that encouraged my heart. The one that I connected with the most and highly recommend was entitled Praying Through Cancer: Set Your Heart Free From Fear. It was originally written for breast cancer patients but it included such wonderful truth and encouragement that it didn’t matter. Also there were excerpts for 90 days and each was only a page long, so it was very manageable with chemo brain! I also appreciated reading Don’t Waste Your Cancer by John Piper. I recently heard about a book entitled Warrior in Pink by Vivian Mabuni. I have not read it but know people who think highly of the author who is on staff with Cru.
If you’ve read this blog for a while, you know how much music and lyrics encourage me so I really appreciated when friends sent me gifts related to music. Several friends sent me cds and a sweet friend made me her own cd of songs to encourage me. I played it almost every time I would drive down for an appointment.
I have always wanted to make a playlist of music that spoke to me during my treatments and journey. Maybe someday in my spare time I will do that (ha!), but in for now here are a few of my favorite songs that I would play on repeat:
- “Healer” by Hillsong
- “Healing Is in Your Hands” Christy Nockels
- “Hosanna” by Christy Nockels
- “How He Loves” David Crowder
- “Heal the Wound” by Jami Jamgochian
- “Our God”, “Need You Now” by Chris Tomlin
- “Hope Now” by Addison Road
- “Your Love Never Fails” by Jesus Culture
- “After All” by Meredith Andrews
- “Unredeemed” by Selah
- “Cast My Cares” by Tim Timmons
My thoughtful gift-giving sister-in-law ordered me a necklace with my favorite Bible verses (from Etsy and pictured in the first photo posted above) so that I could tangibly hold onto God’s promises. From that idea, I wrote down the Bible verses that spoke to my heart on a spiral notecard book. I brought that with me to each of my appointments so that when I was in the waiting room and needing some reassurance, I would pull it out and remind myself of truth.
Sometimes when there are no words, just your sheer presence is all that’s needed. So many friends came and sat with me at the hospital or in my home. I will never forget that a few friends and family members flew or drove in to spend a few days with me. It was also especially helpful to have someone else at my appointments so that I could have another set of ears to hear the information the doctor told me. Even though I knew I could go alone, having my mom, Jared, my mother-in-law or another friend offer to go with me truly spoke to me. I think it’s hard for so many of us to accept the help and encouragement of our loved ones but the persistence will speak volumes.
An organization called Inerman Angels was also helpful because it gathered people with all sorts of cancers together for support and encouragement. I also really appreciated getting together with those my age who had gone through cancer treatments. The camaraderie is irreplaceable when going through such an illness like cancer.
Nothing is more powerful than prayer and nothing meant more to me than when people reached out to me to let me know they were truly praying for my healing. No card or flower could touch the power that prayer to a Sovereign God had!
Meeting Physical Needs in Tangible Ways
My friends also met so many of my physical needs and cared for me during my cancer road:
As I shared on this blog before, losing my hair was one of the most difficult parts of my journey. A group of my friends organized a “Hair-cutting Party” to shave off my hair. They brought food for tacos, we had a time of prayer and sharing, and then they shaved my hair. It was a time I will never forget and their encouragement through a very difficult time made it so much easier.
Other friends and family members sent me scarves or hats. I felt so loved knowing they were thinking of me in that way, and I enjoyed having the variety to choose from each day.
Another dear friend shopped for a wig with my mom and me. I think her mission that day was to make me laugh by finding all of the ridiculous wigs, picking them out for me or trying them on! I look back on what could have been a difficult day with fond memories because of the laughter and encouragement.
A note about this sensitive subject of losing your hair: Usually once your hair falls out (which as I mentioned above, it is much better to just shave/chop it off than to watch piece by piece fall out), it takes two to three months after treatments for your hair to come back enough to cover your head so you don’t need a wig or scarf. The investment of different cute hair accessories is worth it and will help normalize life as much as possible.
I was shocked to see how expensive wigs were but here are two helpful pieces of advice:
- Insurance will often cover some of the wig so don’t be shy in asking.
- The American Cancer Society will give you a free wig.
I ended up having two wigs—one I bought and one I received free. That way when I needed a little variety, I had it. The wigs are really hot and itchy on your head but some days when I was going out to dinner, I just wanted to have hair on my head! (Speaking of, there is a wig hair cap, which goes over the head before the wig, which helps some with the uncomfortable qualities of the wig. And there is also a sleeping hat that I wore because my head got cold at night. And then Jared would affectionately call me Michael Phelps because I looked like I was going for a swim!)
Because it is so hard to lose your hair, any other way to emphasize other beautiful features really is priceless. I did not know that I would lose my eyelashes and eyebrows, so splurging on some fun eye shadow helped. You can’t go wrong with earrings or other jewelry pieces either. I will never forget when one friend came to visit and painted my nails because she wanted me to feel a little pampered. There is also an organization called “Look Good, Feel Better” that I know has been so helpful to many.
I also will never forget when one friend showed up at my door with two big bags of groceries and filled my fridge and pantry with delicious goodies. Another neighbor brought over a huge box filled with fruits and vegetables from Costco. Both of those kind gestures spoke volumes to me. One friend even brought me Graeter’s ice cream in the hospital!
So many dear friends and neighbors cooked us dinner. One of my friends set up a calendar on www.mealbaby.com and friends filled in the boxes to bless me with meals. It was so helpful for Jared and me to not have to worry about cooking meals during that time. The effort it takes to make (or buy) the meal will never be wasted.
Unfortunately, chemo can affect people in all different ways depending on the length of the treatment and kind of treatment. But there are a few side effects that are more or less “universal” and I’ve found a few ways (mostly through the advice of my kind friends) to help ease the discomforts.
- For mouth sores, jolly ranchers, chloraseptic lozenges or spray for your throat, salt water gargles/listerine gargles and popsicles are all helpful. My nurse friends sent me hard candy in the mail which was a great, practical gift.
- For nausea and tingling or loss of feeling in extremities, acupuncture and massage seem to help. A gift card for a massage could speak volumes.
- For chemo brain, unfortunately I am not sure there is much to do with the brain fog, but I do know that acupuncture and rest helped.
I was fortunate to not have chemo for too long of a period so I do not feel like I am an “expert” in this area. Please share in the comments below if you have found a remedy for a chemo side effect that could help others.
Offering to drive the patient to or from cancer treatments can go a long way as well. I don’t think I ever went to an appointment by myself, which is a testament to my amazing friends, family, and husband.
I found out about an amazing service called Cleaning For a Reason that comes to cancer patients’ homes once a month and cleans your house for no cost. To find out more information, go to www.cleaningforareason.com. If they do not service your area, offering to come clean the house or do the laundry can speak volumes as well! Both my mom and mother-in-law cleaned our house from top to bottom and when I didn’t have enough energy to get up from the couch, that gesture served me so much.
After my second surgery, my energy was very depleted. One of my friends offered to come over and decorate my house for Christmas. Seriously?What good friends! They wouldn’t let me do hardly anything but sit on the couch while they served me. It was so hard for me to let them love me that way, but it communicated so much care to me and I will never forget it.
I feel blessed that God brought led me to a couple Integrative Medicine Centers that helped support my healing during and after cancer. I especially benefitted from The Block Center, who provided a nutritionist to help know how to eat food that could help keep my body strong. I also took many supplements to improve my immune system as well. I had never had acupuncture treatments before being diagnosed with cancer, but after my experience, I highly recommend it. There is a wide range of people and places connected to acupuncture, so I always chose to go to a place where the treatment was more in a doctor’s office setting and didn’t make me feel uncomfortable in any way.
It has been such an encouragement to me to relive some of the ways that people reached out to me as I was going through cancer treatments. I pray that this list can help jump-start for you ways to encourage people in your life.
And to those of you who reached out to me during my journey, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I will never forget your kindness!