It was September 2010. My phone rang, I looked at the name and found it to be my friend and neighbor. She had recently undergone a non-emergency surgery to have her gallbladder removed. I knew from talking with other neighbors that during the surgery they had found tumors in her liver. We all waited and hoped for the best as she underwent further testing.
I answered her call with high hope things were going to be o.k. Still recovering from her surgery, she was calling to ask for a ride to the library. I agreed on the ride and felt a quick flash of relief that she had simply called for help with an errand. I then asked her how all of her tests went. “Along with my liver, they also found cancer in my lungs,” she replied fighting back tears. “It’s in my bones and in my brain.”
All of the air left the room.
How could this be happening? She is a young, healthy woman with two small children I couldn’t wrap my brain around what she had told me. With shaking hands I called my husband to come be with our kids while I went to her. I felt completely numb and at a loss for words. What could I possibly say? I’m sorry didn’t even begin to sum up this situation. We sat on her couch hugging and crying. I tried my best to give her space to talk if she wanted to or to just be still. We eventually made our way to the library where she searched for books that would help her explain this to her children. I just kept thinking, “What can I do? I have to help. What can I possibly do to make this better?”
Further testing revealed that the cause of the tumors was breast cancer, Stage IV. I know breast cancer happens to a lot of women but all of us had a hard time accepting that this could be happening to our vibrant friend. We all grieved as a neighborhood and every last one of my friends asked the same thing I did, “What can we possibly do to make this better?” In the days after the diagnosis as she was recovering from surgery, we tried to help by cleaning her house and doing her laundry. I think we probably scrubbed the same countertop five times just so we could feeling like we were doing something instead of just sitting by while the painful truth of the situation set in. As the weeks went by and treatments began, we provided dinners and childcare. Sometimes it didn’t feel like enough but I knew it was all appreciated.
It has been four years since that first phone call, and I am in awe of my friend’s amazing attitude and high spirits. She and her husband are raising two high-energy boys while she remains working as a lawyer. She is surrounded by family and friends and we have all rallied together at various times to do what we can to make life a little bit easier.
I know so many of us have friends or relatives going through this same experience. You may be wondering what you can do to help. Here are a few suggestions on ways to help and resources to check out.
• Agrace is a wonderful local resource for community support and education.
• Share the Care provides tips on how a group can help an individual who is ill. The book is available at local libraries as well.
I asked my friend if she would share with me what she has found most helpful since her diagnosis. She was kind enough to share these tips with me. Here is the list in her own words.
• I found that CaringBridge was invaluable, especially in the beginning; it took away so much of the emotional exhaustion of re-telling my story.
• Lotsa Helping Hands can coordinate meals, cleaning, rides to appointments etc.
• I was grateful for the support and loved every thoughtful card, email or note. I think people underestimate the power of a simple sweet card.