Recently people reeling from the “You have cancer” diagnosis have called me. If I could, I would sit down with them “in human” by the fireplace at my Starbucks and listen to their stories. I wouldn’t give them advice unless they asked me. If they asked me, I would share with them a few of thoughts for those newly diagnosed with cancer from the perspective of a cancer survivor:
Dear Bewildered Friend,
I am so sorry you are replaying in your mind the cancer phone call from your doctor. Everyone around you is living life just as always, and here you sit with news so heavy, so derailing.
If you are like me, nights are the hardest. After the house quiets down, you lay there alone with your thoughts and fears. And each morning you wake, wondering if all of this is a bad dream. Once you regain your bearings, you’re faced with the challenge of how to get out of bed to face another day. Physically everything looks the same; but now with this devastating diagnosis, nothing is the same.
If you’ve started sharing the news, I imagine your phone is ringing and your e-mail inbox is filling with well-meaning friends and family offering advice on diets, doctors, and blog links and books. If you are like me, you will probably try to read everything, and then hit a wall of information overload. You’ve been abruptly thrust into a new world filled with unfamiliar terms and options, appointments, decisions, all with varying outcomes. It’s hard to sort through all the information to know which steps to take.
These are just a few nuggets of advice from me looking back on my cancer battle. Feel free to apply what you like or disregard them altogether.
- There is no right way to do cancer. Everyone’s cancer journey is different. Yours won’t look like anyone else’s. So give yourself freedom to be on your own path.
- Let other’s in. Chances are those who love you feel incredibly helpless and scared and want to help you in any way they can. Giving them the opportunity to bring a meal, drive you to a chemo appointment, clean your bathroom, or pick up your kids is a way for them to lessen the load for you, and it can be a blessing for them. Let others help so you can have space to heal and physically and emotionally tackle each portion of active treatment. You’ll probably be surprised, though. Some people you thought would be there for you may disappear, and people you didn’t expect may come along to help.
- Find an information hub person. If you’re married, your spouse won’t be able to go anywhere for the next two years without being asked how you are doing. Family and friends will want updates. We stopped answering our home phone. Rather than saying the same thing over and over, consider using an online site like CaringBridge for updates and prayer requests. If you enjoy writing, writing updates on the blog may be a good place to process your journey. If you don’t, ask someone to write updates for you.
- Try to be generous in the grace department. Grace is unmerited, undeserved favor. Give yourself grace. You’ve never battled cancer before. You are entering uncharted waters with how you will respond physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. Don’t be hard on yourself. Give those around you grace. They want to help, even though their unsolicited advice, like the latest cancer-killing vegetable discovered in the rain forest, may not be helpful. Your cancer diagnosis may trigger unresolved grief in those around you, so sometimes their response may not be what you need or want.
- Lean into God. Wherever you are in your spiritual journey, my encouragement is to move towards God. He can take your anger, your confusion, your sadness, your fear. Be honest with Him. He wants your whole heart. Let Him help you, comfort you, provide for you. And let others pray for you. God is able to bring good out of something as awful as cancer.
I hate cancer. I hate thinking about another person having to battle cancer. I hate that you will walk the painful treatment road. As much as I hate cancer, I want you to know from my experience that God used cancer to expand my heart. I have met some of the most remarkable people on this journey. I have been blessed in thousands of ways by the thoughtfulness and generosity of so many. I am not the same woman today because of cancer.
Cancer has marked my life, but it does not define my life.
I am praying for God’s blessing on your life in unexpected ways.
Love from a fellow warrior in pink,