Submitted by Kay Helbling
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month. Each time I pick up groceries I’m reminded by the checkout clerk with their request for “rounding up my purchase amount and giving the loose change to cancer”. So few pennies for such a huge cause…and then, the pennies become tears when memories reflect on a family member or personal friend who walked through the ordeal.
You receive the news. Your friend has cancer. This vital, always happy, always healthy, always active, woman. How can it be? A million things run through your mind. What can I do to help? What does she need the most from me right now?
As any good friend you want to do anything and everything you can but where do you start? It doesn’t matter, you simply start. She will need you each step of the way.
There are many steps along the way, but just a couple hours each week can make all the difference in her life and for her family. Initially, it is coming to accept the diagnosis and making the decisions about treatment choices. Be strong. Be pragmatic. Talk and research and talk some more. Help her prepare all the questions she may want to have answered in her next physician’s visit. Offer to go with and take notes for her.
The stress and tension put on a family involved in a serious illness is unimaginable. The woman is hit hard by the guilt of not being able to care for her children as she is used to doing. The children will feel hopelessly lost as to what they can do. The husband will feel the weight of everything on his shoulders. Help them to help her and you will be helping them. Let them see that tears are okay and that laughter is equally important.
Give the children the relief and comfort in knowing they played a part. Sit down with them to map out little things they can do that will put her mind at ease. Set up a “Mom I…” schedule that they can mark off throughout the day. Mom I…did brush my teeth before bed. Mom I…did get ready for school on time. Mom I…did get my homework done. Mom I…talked with you about my day. Mom I…love you.
Talk with her husband about what food the family likes to eat, then bring several meals over, cooked, frozen and ready to thaw, heat and eat. Find out when you can come in to clean the house. Give him as much free time as possible to simply be with her and his family to enjoy time together.
Don’t ask them what you can do. Watch, look, and listen for what needs to be done. You will not be alone. She will have a host of friends that want to help, but don’t know where to begin. Keep them updated for her. Offer suggestions, and even set up a schedule to share in cooking of those meals, or pick up the kids to transport to sporting events. If she can’t attend the event, tape it so the family can play it back together. Meet with them to pray for her and organize nights when you can all get together with her to pray, and to laugh, and to enjoy God’s grace.
No one can be quite prepared for the effects of the Chemotherapy. The physical side effects leave the patient drained, nauseous, with mouth sores and hair loss. The emotional can be equally as devastating. Nothing can prepare a woman for the shock and embarrassment of baldness or possibly the loss of a breast. Be prepared to cry again, and laugh again as you offer up your latest “beauty plan”. You, along with her other friends, can bring her gifts with notes of encouragement….comfy slippers, oversized head scarves, cozy blanket, lip gloss, roomy shirt with soft fabric that buttons down the front, or beautiful earrings.
Many survivors will tell you it is humor and strength that are qualities that can make all the difference. When the day has arrived when she comes to you with the news that the cancer is in remission, you will thank God for giving you the chance to have been a part of the richness of the moments you gave that…really made a difference.
Kay was an insurance adjuster and executive for 15 years, a small business owner and a teacher for 10. But, her most fulfilling work has been as a mother of her two boys. She is now looking forward to an empty nest this fall with her best friend—her husband.