Are you sick of cancer? Are you afraid of cancer? Are you angry at it? Do you feel helpless in the face of it? Decades ago the mere word “cancer” was a death sentence. What power the word gained over us! These days we have screenings, treatment options, special diets, alternative care, and support groups. But hearing the words “you have cancer” still means that your life has significantly changed and you need to prepare for battle. This week I’m going to give you some suggestions to help wipe out cancer, or make it easier to deal with. And I got a lot of help from my friends, whose contributions are shown indented as quotes. They have been there, and they know from very hard experience what they’re talking about. I cannot thank them enough for sharing their stories with me during the preparation of this week’s post.
1. GET TESTED. This is the Number One thing you can do for yourself. Many, many cancers are treatable if detected in their early stages, so that’s when you should try to find them. Make that call, set that appointment, and get checked. If you don’t have health insurance, look into programs like the Well Woman Program in Wisconsin that covers uninsured and under-insured women. Set money aside. Ask for help to cover the cost. But get checked on a regular basis for everything that you should, and make sure you are performing self exams as well.
2. REDUCE YOUR RISK. Stop unhealthy habits as soon as you can, and replace them with healthy ones. I shouldn’t have to give examples here — you know what changes you need to make. If you don’t know, ask your doctor or an honest friend. Losing weight and stopping smoking won’t guarantee you will be cancer-free, but it certainly improves your odds for avoiding cancer or for surviving rugged courses of chemotherapy or radiation.
3. TALK ABOUT IT. Many cancers take root in “private” places. We may not want to talk about breasts, testicles, or cervixes (cervices?), but we need to be talking to each other about breast cancer, testicular cancer, and cervical cancer to make sure we know the latest information, know what we should be tested for, know what treatments are available, and know how we can support friends who are fighting for their lives. Our shyness and ignorance help cancer win when we can’t afford to lose. In October and November this year I got back some “bad” test results, and was waiting for weeks for a follow-up procedure and then for the results that would tell me whether or not I had cervical cancer. I shared this information with only a very few friends, only to find out that a cousin was undergoing a similar cancer scare at the same time. How many women would have benefited from my sharing my experience sooner rather than later? I’m sorry I was shy… I just didn’t want to make extra worry for my friends. Anyway, as of right now, I’m cancer-free. Now go get yourself tested!
4. BE THERE. Talk to your friends with cancer. Talk with them about the cancer, or about whatever they want to talk about. It might be cancer, or it might not. Keep being their friend, and keep being there. Be reliable. Be helpful. Fighting cancer is hard work, and it’s harder if you feel alone, abandoned, or ostracized because of an illness you didn’t ask for. So call them. Email them. Visit. Be there. Show up.
Talk to them. So many of Mark’s friends did not know what to say to him — so they said nothing at all. He felt so isolated and alone, especially when he was really, really sick. Even if it is just a card or phone call — it is really important. — Sarah, caretaker
Keep visiting! Call, write, visit as much as you use to if not more. Of course, be guided by the person’s cues. Your visits may need to be very brief. — Anita, caretaker
Be a true friend by asking the person with cancer to do things to keep their mind off the situation. Don’t treat them like they are sick and exclude them from activities. The person will decline the offer if they aren’t up to it, so don’t decide for them what you think they may want. Exclusion sucks, we’re still the same people we always were! — Michele, 2X cancer survivor
My experience is that cancer can be very isolating and consuming. I would suggest making a sincere effort to connect with the person fighting cancer. Don’t just ask, “how are you.” Really make an effort to ask about the kind of things they are dealing with since being diagnosed. If they have no one to go with them on appointments, offer to go along. Ask if you could come sit with them during chemo treatments. Ask the person out to do something fun. It could be something simple like coffee or ice cream but it might give the cancer patient an hour of his/her day to NOT think about cancer. — Deb, caretaker
5. PUT YOUR MONEY IN THE RIGHT PLACE. Buying a pink object to “raise awareness” of breast cancer mostly raises the profits of the company who manufactures the pink object. You know who needs the money? People fighting cancer, that’s who. Have you ever heard a cancer patient say, “Thank goodness my health insurance covered everything! I’m completely cured and don’t owe a penny!” Me neither. Look around your neighborhood and talk to your friends. Ask around. You do know someone who needs financial help, even if you don’t know them yet. You can give them money to help with their bills, which are likely to be huge. Every bit helps. Ask at your bank to see if they are accepting donations to help out a local family who is struggling. You can give anonymously, but give. They need you, and the time is now. Besides, do we really need to
spend waste another dime on “awareness”? We’re aware already. Let’s move on to treatments and cures, please.
6. MAKE YOUR COMPUTER GO BOINC. My friend Cory told me about BOINC, the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, which lets you add your computer’s untapped resources to a worldwide network so that scientific projects can get access to the extra computing power they need for their research. He set it up on my computer in a couple of minutes, and now my computer is running calculations to help combat AIDS and childhood cancer while I sleep. Check out the website. If you’re interested in participating with me, leave a comment. If there’s enough interest, I will start a team you can join. Personally, I can’t think of a better use for my plethora of vintage Macintoshes.
7. LET THEM DRIVE. Each person is an individual; people fighting cancer, more so. Each body reacts to disease differently and responds to treatment differently. When you’re being attacked by cancer, you need to understand what’s working and not working for yourself, and what your limits are for each different activity. If it’s your friend or family member who’s fighting accept that they are driving the car on this trip, and you are their crew. You may not like how fast or slow their car goes — you may have wanted to map out a different route — but you need to respect that they are in charge now, and you are there to assist in the way that they need your assistance. Check your ego and assist.
Dean and I talked about this and decided that the one thing would be UNDERSTANDING. This would be to understand the kind of FEAR the family is facing with the prospect of no longer having this person around. An understanding of what multiple doctor’s APPOINTMENTS mean to the family planning and how to handle them. An understanding of how ONE’S HEALTH CHANGES affect the whole family. An understanding of the LIFE CHANGING process that happens to an entire family with the diagnosis of cancer to one of its members. Basically to be UNDERSTANDING of the fact that this diagnosis doesn’t just impact the person, but the whole family. If someone is distracted it isn’t because they don’t want to talk about it, but they are dealing with the cancer on so very many levels it is hard to see past all the things it impacts. — Bonnie, 2X cancer survivor
The most important thing you can do for someone with cancer is let it be their journey. We discover that a loved one has cancer and that affects us tremendously. Sometimes, and it’s human nature, it can be difficult to stop thinking about ourselves and really allow the patient to absorb, come to terms with, and dictate their own cancer journey. We just want to help. We want to swoop in and save the day. But, we are not superman. Being angry at our own lack of ability to DO anything can take away for the true matter at hand. The one best thing to do? Let go. Let it be about the person with cancer every minute you are with that person. Let him or her tell you what that journey looks like and accept it as it is. — Paula M., caretaker
The one best thing that I feel you can do for someone fighting cancer is to make sure that they understand that this is their battle and that they have to make their own decisions regarding their own treatment. — Paula R., caretaker
8. BE POSITIVE. Telling your cancer-fighting friend about your other friends who have died from cancer IS NOT HELPFUL. Neither is it supportive, kind, or necessary. Take your friend seriously and give them credit for their perspective. Don’t undermine them by comparing their cancer to your inconvenient hangnail, or whatever. Don’t pester them with “facts” you picked up from WebMD, recommend quack cures, or suggest they need an attitude adjustment to make everything all better. They have a whole medical team thinking of appropriate treatments to try: YOUR job is to provide emotional support. Stay their friend, hug them and touch them if it’s safe and welcome, and keep smiling.
Moral support. — Ken, 4X cancer survivor
9. DO SOMETHING. If you want to help, ask what you can do. This is not the time to treat someone as you think you would want to be treated; take the time to find out how they want to be treated. You can’t make their cancer go away, but maybe you can pick up that gallon of milk for them so they don’t have to make an extra trip. Maybe what they really need is for someone to just tackle that mountain of laundry so it doesn’t upset them any more. Ask, then do.
Be as supportive as the person in need WANTS and ALLOWS you to be. This may mean dropping everything else to be by someone’s side. Or graciously backing off and giving them the space they need. Or taking care of their loved ones by grocery shopping, picking their kids up at school. — Rona, caretaker
10. REMEMBER THE REST. Cancer may reside in one person, but it attacks a whole family structure. It saps strength, strains relationships, and adds extra tasks and expenses. Often the primary caregiver at home is rapidly becoming as worn out as the cancer patient. Giving them attention or respite care can ease their burden for a bit.
I thought it was really great when people came and did things with the other kids too! Sometimes they felt a little forgotten… and really loved a little bit of attention. The meals were also fantastic!!! We were spoiled. — Liz, caretaker
and, of course….
11. NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER SURRENDER! Life on earth is rare, precious, and all too short. You do not get a do-over, so don’t give up. Live the best life possible. Ask for help if you need it. Offer to help when you can. Love the people you love.