“He who has health has hope and he who has hope has everything.” ~Proverb
I write this today seemingly healthy.
My doctors say I’m healthy. I feel healthy. I look healthy. But over the last six months this was not the case.
In April of this year I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Melanoma. I am thirty-five years old. I am a wife and a mother to a four-year-old and six-year-old. I have my own business. I am busy. I did not have time for cancer.
But cancer had time for me.
I’ll never forget the day that I got the call letting me know that not only did I have this “Melanoma,” but it had spread to my lymph nodes as well. More surgery and an immunotherapy called “interferon” would be necessary, and the rate of return even after treatment? Thirty percent.
The first response inside of me was acceptance. I skipped past all the other emotions because, well, quite frankly, I had so long neglected the mole on my neck that I knew when the whole process started that cancer (and an advanced one at that) was likely.
But I’m not here to talk about cancer today. I’m here to talk about hope. A hope that springs eternal in the name of community. A rallying around me of family, friends, and even strangers upon this diagnosis. A support system that boldly lifted me and my mindset through every step of the way.
Dinners, childcare, cards, surprises on my doorstep, texts, calls, long-term visits—this community that I’m so very blessed with rallied in a big way, in a way I never, ever thought possible.
Even in my darkest and sickest of hours there was always something to be hopeful for because the love that came at me was indescribable.
It was made of sterner stuff.
It gave me hope because every time I even remotely started feeling bad, the community would take hold and lift me up in ways that were exactly what I needed right in the moment that I needed it.
My phone would buzz: “Thinking of you today. Hoping you’re okay. Sending love your way.”
My email would ding: “You’re amazing through this. Truly.”
Visitors would stop by: “Let yourself be loved. Let yourself be cared for.”
This whole cancer thing has taught me, once again, in the beauty of humanity. It has shown me that, even in our darkest hours, others can (and will) lift our spirits. When we are faced with our hardest struggles, it is then that we see the beauty in all that surrounds us.
Cancer is a bringer of all emotions. It is an un-hinger of all truths and perceptions. Things that once were important are no longer relevant. There is suddenly more beauty in the everyday.
This I learned not only because I was sick, but because my family, my friends, and perfect strangers showed me how to someday support someone in the same way they supported me.
So I offer you this: a list of ways to show your support when someone is having a hard time or is going through an illness.
Make a meal even when they say they don’t need it.
This was lifesaving for me! Drop it on the doorstep and tell them to freeze it.
Little joy buzzes, I like to now call them, sweet messages offering support, jokes, and updates from the outside world.
Leave a message.
Hearing the voices of my friends and family as I drifted in and out of consciousness (the treatment I had to endure was five days a week for four weeks, and it was tough) was the most uplifting.
Drop off trinkets.
There were times when I was well enough to go outside and sit for a bit in the summer sun. Often, I would find little gifts at my doorstep. I see these now in my office, in my home, in my bedroom, and they make me smile thinking of those who dropped them by.
Don’t give up quickly.
Whatever support you would like to offer, know that there may be some “Oh, we couldn’t possibly” or “That’s okay—we’re okay.” People often say this when they could really use the support, so it helps to offer more than once and be clear that you really want to be there for them.
Help delegate tasks.
Create a rotating schedule for bringing meals, giving rides, and offering help.
Admit that it stinks—empathize and then uplift.
Something from the emotional perspective that I learned during my cancer diagnosis and treatment was that when I told someone about it, they often didn’t know what to say. There was always a silence and then a pause. A loss for words.
We naturally want to make things “better” and keep it upbeat, which can go a long way in lifting someone’s spirit. That being said, the very first thing I loved hearing from family and friends before the upbeat was “Wow. This sucks.”
Those words allowed me to connect emotionally with my supporters. Even if they had never had cancer or had never gone through something like this before, the fact that the words were out there anchored me into a place where I could then build up with hope.
The best response I heard from a friend was this: “This sucks. I don’t like it. It’s going to be hard, but we will get through it and you’re not alone.” So, when in doubt empathize and then offer support.
Stay long-term if you can.
If you are able, try and be with your loved ones during the most difficult times. Stay for two days, a week, whatever works. This reprieve is huge.
Ask yourself: What would I want?
And then do that very thing.
Community support can provide a lot of hope, and as the quote says: “He who has hope has everything.”
As I ride the wave of newfound health, I know deep down that I have a net of support that. If the cancer returns, I’ll still have a battalion of loved ones behind me and they’ll help me keep hope alive.
Women hugging image via Shutterstock