Laurie and I remain deeply indebted to many, many friends
for their positive thoughts and love.
I often incorporate into my posts personal experiences and stories with broader lessons and insights. This week’s post comes from the most personal of all experiences that my wife, Laurie, and I have traveled together.
The journey began August 19, 2015 when Laurie received the diagnosis that she had Triple Negative Breast Cancer. Immediately we began acknowledging and sorting through the range of emotions that would last through her surgery, surgical recovery, chemotherapy and currently the road to what we expect to be full recovery.
From the beginning, I followed Laurie’s lead on how to best support her. Of course, after 40 years together we pretty much know what each other needs. One of the early choices was to not live each moment of her diagnosis and treatment on social media. While some people might have used that forum at that time, it was not our choice in this situation. We informed friends and family as appropriate.
We cannot overstate the power of the continuous, loving, and powerful support we got from around the nation. Supportive emails, short visits, phone calls, and text messages helped both of us through the process; especially the early days.
We experienced and appreciated (still do appreciate) the community of love that surrounded us. No question.
The odds remain that you might know or will know someone with cancer. Sometimes knowing what to say and do can be difficult. Over the past eight months we have experienced and benefited a great deal from the power of well-intentioned and well-executed acts of kindness. While each person and each situation remains unique, this week I will pass along what sustained (and continues to sustain) Laurie and me on our cancer journey. Next week, I’ll pass along a few of the not-so-well executed actions.
So, in the category of “Thanks. You’re Helping!” (TYH) let me offer the following suggestions for those of you who have someone in your life struggling with cancer. You may need to adjust your responses for your circumstances. This is not meant as a script. They worked for us.
- “Thank you for sharing. I can’t imagine how difficult this is.” (TYH!) We had so many people who understood that they could never understand how we felt. They recognized that and did not attempt to tell us that they understood. We knew they were there for us.
- “Can I come to the hospital to be with you (Steve) while you wait on Laurie’s surgery to be completed?” (TYH!) I was grateful no one just decided to show up. I appreciated the offer—and declined the company. Actually, I wanted to be alone during that time. I did not want to feel like I had to make conversation. This alone time became part of the initial healing process.
- “I would like to make dinner and bring it to you and Steve. Is there a good day—and is there anything I should not bring/prepare?” (TYH!) This gave us choice—and great food! Sometimes the friend who brought the food stayed (with our invitation) to visit. A true blessing on a number of levels.
- “I know you will be swamped with calls, emails and texts. Know that I am here for you. I will check in on occasion.” (TYH!) We appreciated those who knew that there needed to be boundaries and limits. The offers were sincere and appreciated.
- “Yes, please add me to your distribution list.” (TYH!) Some folks in similar situations use platforms like Caring Bridge as a central posting location where people can check on status updates. I set up a texting distribution list for a similar purpose. It allowed for quick and easy communication with a number of folks. I also gave people the option to opt out if they so desired. I did my best not to abuse this list.
- “My class made get well cards for you.” (TYH!) A dear teacher friend of ours delivered a bundle of handmade cards from her 5th grade class. Very powerful.
- “I can do that!” (TYH!) On two occasions during the treatment cycle, I needed to travel. Two different friends gladly agreed to spend the night (kind of a “sleepover”!). While Laurie was fine on her own, I felt better knowing someone was in the house. Additionally, I reached out to two colleagues and a few friends who survived breast cancer (and thrived!). They provided immense and welcomed emotional support and practical information for Laurie as we asked for input.
- “How are you doing, Steve?” (TYH!) I cannot tell you how grateful I remain to all who reached out to me during the past eight months. They understood that cancer does not just affect the patient.
- “Just a note….” (TYH!) Thank you to the many friends who took time to just drop a note in the mail. Laurie loved getting those notes. My cousin and his wife from St. Louis sent a number of Italian care packages (complete with salami and Italian cookies. Yum!) Flowers were delivered. Even Roxie (our wonder pup) got a few dog biscuits.
- “Team Hoppi!” (TYH!) I had t-shirts made up when Hoppi (Laurie’s nickname) began the journey. I gave them to a few friends. On the day she started chemotherapy, these folks put on the t-shirts, took photos, and texted them to Laurie. Even our local police sergeant posed with colleagues and snapped a photo. She loved it!
These remain a few of the great memories of the healing power of positive thoughts and loving energy. Laurie and I remain deeply indebted to those many, many friends who made this journey as smooth as possible. While no words can make cancer go away, the right words and actions can make the situation much more bearable.
Every situation, patient and family remain unique. My hope is the foregoing may give a bit of guidance to those who struggle with what to say and do. If you keep your heart open and remember not to deny the patient and family’s story or privacy you will be doing good. You will be a friend indeed.
Video recommendation for the week: How about a little Carole King and “You’ve Got a Friend”?
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(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.