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Helping During A Cancer Crisis

I can remember it like it was just yesterday. My family had spent five days camped out in the ICU waiting room of a local medical center. For the past two days, we had anxiously awaited test results from my Mom’s brain biopsy. Early Saturday morning the surgeon swooped in, sporting his tennis whites, and escorted us to a tiny room, out of earshot of the other ICU families. He proceeded to quickly give us the biopsy results and suggested treatment outline. While we were left to try to make sense of it all, he scurried off to his tennis lesson. Cancer. The word we all feared.

Fast-forward a few years. Same hospital, similar scenario. I sat in a different waiting room, waiting to take a good friend home after out patient surgery. What was initially believed to be a sports injury turned out to be bone cancer. Soon our close-knit circle of friends began to try to figure out how, in a tangible way, we could help our friend navigate through this chapter in her life.

After getting past the “This can’t be happening!” stage, here are some helpful things that I learned walking through the process.

Pray. Get into God’s Word. Ask God for healing. Stand on the healing promises of God. Talk to God about how you feel. Pray over the person who is sick. Ask for prayer from others when you need it.

Talk. Dialogue about what is going on. Cry. Laugh. Be honest about your feelings and fears. This is the one thing that I did not do when my mom was sick, but that I did do when my friend was diagnosed with cancer a few years later. It is amazing the difference talking about the situation makes. Talking helps remove some of the fear.

Don’t neglect taking care of yourself. Get plenty of rest. Eat right. Exercise. It is easy to neglect yourself when you are taking care of someone else, but eventually this will lead to crashing and burning.

Send cards. Cards are a great way to encourage someone … they can read the cards time and time again. And they are a great way to let someone know you care, without having to spend a lot of time or money. I was amazed at the number of people that sent multiple cards to my mother when she was sick. Before that time, I thought of sending someone a card as a one-time thing.

Have/Be the “point” person. Many people are willing and able to help out when someone is sick, but often times they do not know what to do. Be the liaison between the sick person and others. Coordinate people to help with providing food and transportation to doctor visits, to the grocery and video store, etc. Having someone to act as a “point” person also helps in relieving the burden on a few.

Ask for specific needs. When going through a crisis, it’s difficult to realize what is needed sometimes. “Call me if you need anything” is difficult to respond to. People tend to feel that they are being a burden if they ask for help. Much better is the specific question: Do you need anything from the grocery store? Can I pick up your prescription?

Set up a website. This is an easy way to help keep people updated. One person I know set up a website for a friend that included progress reports, prayer requests and a calendar where people could sign up to help with tasks such as chauffeuring to and from appointments and picking kids up at soccer practice.

Celebrate. Celebrate the small stuff as well as the big stuff. In the midst of a crisis, it is easy to get burdened under the weight of it all. Help your friend to celebrate victories along the way—good reports, end of a bout of treatment, etc.

Be consistent. It seems as though there are always lots of people willing and eager to lend a helping hand at the beginning of a crisis. As time goes on, people tend to disappear. Such is human nature. People move on to other things, and may forget that real needs still exist. If you are the “point” person, you can help match the flow of helping hands with the current needs.

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Although this is not a comprehensive list, these are some things I learned while walking through the process with people I care a great deal about. Take advantage of the opportunities to spend time with the person. Let them be the barometer for what they need. Be thankful for the chance to see life and what is really important from a different perspective. Don’t lose sight of the opportunity to minister to someone else in a difficult chapter in their life.

[Amy Clifford resides in Birmingham, Ala., where she spends her days working as a special investigator for an insurance company. In her spare time, she enjoys writing, perusing independent bookstores and creating Polaroid image and emulsion transfers.]

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