Cancer. That dreaded diagnosis that turns your world upside down in an instant. Since my mother passed away from cancer just a year ago, I was hoping not to have to deal with this disease again so soon, but another one of my loved ones was recently diagnosed with cancer. All who are close to my newly diagnosed loved one, myself included, are caught up in the initial stage of shock and overwhelm.
All I keep thinking is, “She is way too young for this diagnosis—she is the mother of a teenager. And she is a person who is always reaching out to others. She has spent years as a caregiver, tirelessly advocating for her loved ones.”
From my experiences of caring for others with cancer, I know too well what lies ahead. I would never have chosen this path for her, but cancer doesn’t pick favorites, and it certainly isn’t fair.
I know that my family and I are not the only ones dealing with this horrific disease. I suspect that everyone reading this is currently dealing with or has dealt with cancer. Maybe you, yourself have this dreaded diagnosis, or maybe a friend or family member.
Besides having to deal with the unavoidable physiological effects like insomnia, loss of appetite, fatigue, fear or grief that come with a sudden, shocking diagnosis, what do you do?
First, may I suggest that you take a deep breath and remember. Psalm 77:11 states “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old.” Have you or a loved one gone through this before? Take a moment to remember how God helped you through it.
My first experience with a close family member having cancer was my freshman year of college when my little brother, 8 years my junior, was diagnosed with cancer. I remember the chaotic whirlwind we were immediately caught up in – biopsies, cat scans, bone marrow tests, endless appointments, not to mention the swirling emotions and unanswerable questions, “How?” and “Why?”
But I also remember how quickly a support system came together for us. We felt the power of prayers that were uttered across the country on our behalf. It felt as if there were a cloud of peace supporting and upholding us. My brother still had to go through surgeries and an aggressive treatment protocol, but we felt God’s peace through it all. (Thankfully, he is still around to bless us almost 40 years later.)
My next encounter with cancer was in 2006 when both my mother and mother-in-law were diagnosed with breast cancer. In a way that only the Lord could orchestrate, they had surgeries on the same day from the same surgeon. Both sides of the family were at the hospital supporting one another, and for a moment, our mothers passed in the hallway as one came out of surgery and the other went in.
My mother-in-law had a mastectomy followed by chemo and radiation. Thankfully, it has not returned.
My mother had a lumpectomy, followed by radiation. Thirteen years later, in 2019, she was diagnosed with a form of brain cancer caused by her metastasized breast cancer. It was a challenging year, but around each corner, we saw how God was blessing us – the unity of family, the excellent care given by hospice and her caregivers, the encouragement from chaplains, and the incredible strength and positive outlook my mother exhibited.
Besides focusing on what God has done in the past, commit yourself to prayer. Cry out to the Great Physician. If you are feeling too overwhelmed or numb to pray, please, please share your burden with your family, friends, and church. That is what the Christian community is all about. Sharing one another’s burdens.
As I am praying for my dear loved one, I am also praying that God will show me how to best help her.
This is where Marissa Henley’s book, Loving Your Friend Through Cancer, comes in. I read it last year when I was taking care of my mother, and I was impressed by how straightforward and practical it was. It resonated with me on so many levels.
Marissa Henley is a cancer survivor. At the time of her diagnosis ten years ago, she had three young children. Drawing from her own encounter with cancer, and the experiences of many others, Marissa has put together a comprehensive guide to help educate and give practical guidance to anyone dealing with cancer. With gentleness and sensitivity, she covers all aspects of what the cancer patient is dealing with and offers practical suggestions of how you can help your loved with her physical, logistical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Each chapter ends with “Questions for Reflection” and “Action Steps to Consider.”
I especially related to Chapter 2: “Circles: Knowing Your Role as Friend or Acquaintance.” While I was caring for my mother, a family friend was also going through cancer treatments. In my mother’s case, there was no question; I dove in headfirst from the beginning as her primary caregiver. But in the case of the family friend, who I didn’t know well, I struggled as to what my role should be. I wanted to help her, but I didn’t want to come across as pushy. Marissa addresses this dilemma in Chapter 2. She offers recommendations of what you can do to help based on the closeness of your relationship to the person. “She really nailed it!” I thought when I read it.
Chapter 4 is another highly practical chapter, “When Religious Platitudes Fail You: How to Avoid Saying the Wrong Thing.” I don’t know about you, but I have often struggled with what to say or not to say when someone receives a cancer diagnosis. Marissa identifies typical responses that are not helpful and offers suggestions of how to communicate care to your loved one while making the conversation focus on her, not you.
There are so many other great nuggets in this book, like the importance of listening to your loved one and allowing her to express her fears and her grief. She also includes chapters about how to support your friend if she is the caregiver, if her diagnosis is terminal, and how to help her live as a survivor. At the end of the book, Marissa includes many resources including a list of Scriptures and useful charts and checklists.
Dealing with cancer is overwhelming, and it takes over every aspect of your life. I pray for God’s blessings upon all of you who are on this difficult journey.
Marissa has donated a signed copy of her book which will be given away in a drawing. The drawing will be held on September 8th. To participate in the drawing, sign up as an email subscriber to this website. If you are already a subscriber, you will automatically be entered and will be entered a second time if you respond to this post through the contact page on this website or through my inspirationallee on Facebook.
*Keep in touch with Marissa through her website. https://www.marissahenley.com/
**You might be interested in Nancy's other stories about cancer:
***Photo Credit: Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay
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