One moment I was wrestling with my toddler and rocking my 3-month-old to sleep, and the next I was staring blankly at the doctor who just told me I had stage four cancer that had metastasized from my uterus to my left lung and spleen.
“Well, I didn’t see that coming,” I smiled at the young doctor who had clearly never given this kind of news to anyone before. I looked over at my husband’s shell-shocked face as he rocked our baby back and forth in the baby carrier because I was still nursing, and we knew we’d be at the hospital for hours.
The next few days were a whirlwind of telling family and friends the bad news and getting set up with chemotherapy and a home care nurse. My husband got trained on how to inject my stomach with a shot of Neupogen five times a week, and we tried to keep life as normal as possible for our toddler and 3-month-old. All the while, I was so grateful that it was me and not them.
A cancer diagnosis at 29 was shocking, but what surprised me the most was how people responded to the news. Some were angry with me as though I had given myself a rare cancer caused by my pregnancy. Others felt my husband and I were irresponsible for not having tens of thousands of dollars saved up just in case. Some felt we didn’t deserve to have a fundraiser organized on our behalf because we shouldn’t have needed one.
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Others—and this may have been the worst of it—shamed me for choosing chemotherapy and praising my God through the storm. “You’re giving Him a bad name. You must have done something to get cancer.” I wish I was kidding.
The cancer I was diagnosed with was growing at the rate of a pregnancy. I didn’t have time for coffee enemas, changes in diet, or vitamin C. Many people offered me pills, potions, and special water that was supposed to cure me completely. What I actually needed were friends. I needed friends to send me silly memes to make me laugh. I needed people to visit me in the hospital when I was stuck there for 10 days over Mother’s Day. I needed friends to show up and hold my hand.
Complete strangers showed up better for me than some of my own family, and I will never forget the kindness of those who were there for me. My husband slept on the hospital floor beside me so I wouldn’t be alone. My sister took my kids on a moment’s notice and even nursed my baby for me when he wouldn’t take a bottle, and I had to stop breastfeeding immediately.
A friend from elementary school came over and cleaned my bathrooms and my daughter’s high chair and then just left so I could sleep—no guilt or anything. A complete stranger rallied the community and held a fundraiser for our family so we could buy a more reliable car. Another friend I hadn’t seen in years came to the hospital to keep me company. Hundreds of my Facebook friends sent me messages and well wishes and someone printed them all for me and put them into a book I still treasure today.
It’s been 11 years since I was diagnosed with cancer and I can still remember everything so clearly. I wasn’t afraid because the first thing I did was pray for His peace that surpasses all understanding. What I needed then was an advocate who could say the things I didn’t dare say at the time. So this is for the woman I was 11 years ago, lying in the hospital bed for 17-hour chemotherapy infusions.
A cancer patient gets to choose how they want to go through their battle. Support them, love them, pray for them—but don’t ever shame them.
They’ll never say it, but money is extremely helpful. Even though I live in Canada and most of my treatment was covered, we still had no income, and the following year we had to declare bankruptcy because of how far behind we got during my cancer. I can’t imagine how someone in another country would manage it.
Please don’t tell a cancer patient to name and claim their healing. This is insensitive at best and destructive at worse. Imagine how they’ll feel if it doesn’t work. Do they really need to be questioning their faith at a time like this?
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Don’t offer your magic pill or drink and promise it will cure them. If you feel that strongly about it, talk to someone close to them but not directly to them. They’ve got enough on their plate at the moment.
Don’t offer to clean, just come over and do it. Or hire a housekeeper for them. If you offer to help, they’ll likely say no because they don’t want to be a burden. You’re going to need to just do it.
Remember your lessons from kindergarten. If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
If it’s a long battle, remember them months down the line. Many people show up in the beginning but then life goes on for them, understandably. Set a reminder on your phone to check in on them every couple of weeks or bring them some soup. A little kindness goes a long way.
Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, and not everyone going through cancer will feel the same way. What I can say is that if all else fails, just be kind. And if you’re the one going through cancer, I am so sorry you’re going through this. No one can ever prepare you to be diagnosed with cancer. I pray that you’ll be fully healed and that your health will be restored. And I pray that those around you would be there for you in the way you need them to be. Life is too short for fake friends and people who kick you when you’re down. There is life after cancer, and it can be truly beautiful.