Some people come with a huge built-in support system and others feel like no one will catch them if they fall. I truly believe that being lifted by others is an enormous factor when it comes to the success of your cancer treatment. It reminds you that you’re not in it alone, that there are shoulders to cry on, meals to be made, rides to be given and so much love to feel. I was so lucky to be utterly consumed by support that this entry is a dedication to those who gently held me and cheered me on in my darkest moments.
About 20 days before I started treatment, the love started pouring in from every corner of the country. People I hadn’t spoken to in years were sending me things to show me their support. It was unimaginable and humbling. Necklaces, bracelets, blankets, stuffed animals, coloring books, side effect management kits, on and on. Every day when I checked my mail there was something new and the senders were blowing my mind!
People planned lunches for me, organized a t-shirt fundraiser, decorated our house (a lot!) while we were gone on vacation, made us frozen meals, offered rides for the kids…it didn’t stop. Help is a hard thing to accept when you’re used to being independent, organized and in charge. But that first day you feel physically terrible after treatment…it’s very easy to accept because it is so obvious that you cannot do this alone.
Nine days before my first treatment, we came home from vacation to something amazing. As we pulled down the street around the corner from our house, Karl pointed out the cute pink ribbons tied on all the trees. I was so clueless I just said oh that’s cute then realized that there were a lot of them and thought they might be for me. I was overwhelmed at the thoughtfulness! As we turned the corner to our house, I couldn’t believe what I saw. I have the most amazing, incredible, loving, thoughtful, magnificent friends ever. Chance made us neighbors and I am so grateful we are friends. You ladies are amazing, and you will never know how much this meant to me! You are a HUGE part of my Army of Love! I’m sure the HOA was loving us, and I think I kept everything up for a solid 3 months. You all must know that these ladies hand made EVERYTHING and worked on this the entire time we were on vacation!
Two days later these same amazing ladies surprised me again with a Booby Shower and matching Jeni’s Army shirts!
Now I was confident that I was ready for this journey. I knew I wasn’t alone and that I would be ok. I like to think that the size and presence of my support system reflects how I’ve treated others throughout my life and if that’s true…I’m so happy they have all felt held by me in their own moments.
Find your support system. Whatever that looks like. Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors and get comfortable with asking for help. It will change your entire experience.
Here are some things you can do to build a stronger support system:
- Tell your family and friends about your diagnosis and treatment. Only you can decide whom to tell and what information you are willing to share, but talking to friends, family and other members of your support network can help you manage the challenges of cancer and its treatment and start thinking about what’s ahead. Keep in mind that you will likely get a wide range of responses. Some people might be very receptive and offer their unconditional support and encouragement, whereas others might feel uncomfortable and not know what to say, perhaps out of fear of saying the wrong thing.
- Ask for help, and keep reaching out. In all likelihood, your friends and family really do want to help, but they don’t always know what to say or do. Don’t be afraid to ask for the specific help you actually need. For example, if your neighbor offers to bring you a casserole but what you really need is someone to mow your lawn, then ask for that specific form of help. If what you really need is childcare during your appointments or a week of meals delivered, ask a trusted family member or friend to come up with a schedule and delegate those tasks among members of your support network. If you’re not getting the support you need, it’s OK to be disappointed and frustrated, but keep reaching out.
- Connect with fellow patients or caregivers. Support from others who are also facing cancer is available both in person and online. The support groups offered at Roswell Park provide an opportunity for patients, caregivers, friends and family to ask questions, share concerns and information, and relate experiences about coping with cancer and its treatment.
If your friend or family member has cancer or is caring for someone who does, here are some ways you can help:
- Educate yourself. The more you know about your loved one’s disease and treatment, the better equipped you’ll be to ask the right questions and offer support that’s helpful.
- Ask questions. Some people are so fearful of saying the wrong thing or invading someone’s privacy that they say or do nothing. Don’t be afraid to ask how their treatment is going, how they’re doing or what they need from you.
- Offer your support, and keep checking in. Cancer and its treatment can take over someone’s life, leaving little room for important everyday tasks like taking care of children, paying bills, cooking or cleaning. Offer to help in ways that you feel comfortable, be it accompanying them to doctor’s appointments, shopping for groceries so that they don’t have to, or buying them a gift card they can use at their favorite takeout restaurant. Because a cancer patient or caregiver may feel uncomfortable imposing on others in response to vague offers of support — such as “If there is anything I can do, please let me know” — try suggesting specific ways in which you are able to help. For example, if your children go to the same school, offer to drive or pick the children up on certain days. If you are neighbors, offer to take the trash and recyclables to and from the curb on garbage day.
Peace, Love & Kicking Ass… 💗