Joanie

Shawhan

In Her Shoes

Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer

8 Ways to Cope with Grief During the Holidays

 

 

Turkey, tinsel and Christmas lights cannot fill the emptiness in our hearts after the loss of a loved one. A season to be jolly morphs into a dread of the upcoming holidays. Our hearts are broken. Our holidays will never be the same.

 

How do we cope, let alone celebrate when the vacant chair at our table is a constant reminder of our loss?

 

1.    Recognize that the holidays are going to be painful, especially the firsts. It’s all right to grieve, to  acknowledge our loss and brokenness.

 

2.   Have a plan. Lack of a plan exacerbates the loneliness and isolation. Accept a new invitation.     Find activities you enjoy.

 

3.   Keep the traditions meaningful to you. Let go of traditions or activities that drain your strength.

 

4.   Start a new tradition in memory of your loved one. Create a special ornament or floral arrangement in their memory. Donate to their favorite charity. Light a candle.

 

5.   Reminisce. Talk about the person. Tell stories. Laugh together.

 

6.   Travel. Spend the holidays with relatives or friends. Take a vacation. Go on a cruise. Travel breaks the monotony of grief and provides an opportunity to make new memories.

 

7.   Help others. Helping others takes our eyes off of our pain and ourselves. Serve a holiday meal at a shelter. Get involved with Christmas toy or food drives. Make a phone call, send a card or pray for someone else who is hurting.

 

8.   Give thanks. During seasons of grief and loss, we often don’t feel thankful. When we give thanks, we shift our focus off our pain and onto God. We keep the memory of our loved one alive by giving thanks for the beautiful memories we shared.

 

 

 

How do you cope with the grief during the holidays?

 

 

 

A Sparkle of Hope for Gynecologic Cancers

 

 

 

Electricity filled the air, sparking excitement and anticipation as I approached the registration table at the Monona Terrace. The time had finally arrived to get our sparkle on for Sparkle of Hope, a special evening celebrating women touched by gynecologic cancers.

 

I received my nametag and registered my credit card to place bids for the silent auction. Several large jars of coins had been plunked on the table, coins collected for the year to Make a Change for Sparkle of Hope research and gynecologic projects at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center.

 

Cocktails and Diamonds

 

Live music performed by the Mad City Trio beckoned me to the windows overlooking Lake Monona. I mingled with guests in cocktail attire, including other ovarian cancer survivors. Our eyes lingered over the items donated for the silent auction. Easels boasted poster size photos of a diamond necklace as well as a square cut emerald. The silent auction held other attractions: jewelry, knitted baby gifts, food baskets and wine. The auction would not be complete without Wisconsin Badger memorabilia: game tickets, Badger chairs and autographed footballs.

 

I stopped at a painting featuring the iconic table and chair sets dispersed across the Memorial Union Terrace overlooking Lake Mendota. The vibrant greens, reds and yellows provided a lovely contrast to the deep blue lake dotted with sailboats.

 

“What a beautiful painting!” I said to the stranger who seemed to be admiring the painting as well.

 

“I painted it,” she replied.

 

I didn’t know what to say, or maybe I had already said it.

 

I strolled over to a table with rows of gold gift bags—the Diamond Dig. Tissue paper peeked over the top of the bags, hiding their treasures, but only one of these bags contained the coveted diamond necklace. I purchased my chance. Would I be the winner this year?

 

As I passed the Diamond Dig, I spotted a sign, “Punch Out Cancer.” Buy a chance, make a fist, punch a hole and retrieve your gift. Prizes varied from a free scoop of ice cream to $100 gift cards. My last punch yielded a McDonalds coupon.

 

I wanted to raise awareness for Sparkle of Hope, so along with Stephanie Herfel, I shot a Facebook live video. Stephanie is an ovarian cancer survivor, a member of the Sparkle of Hope committee and one of our featured speakers. Stephanie sparkled in her teal evening gown as she shared how her huskie, Sierra, sniffed out her cancer before the doctors diagnosed it.

 

The lights flickered, summoning us to the banquet room. I joined other ovarian cancer survivors as guests at a table sponsored by the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance which included the organization’s directors. A pumpkin overflowing with peach colored roses, yellow tea roses and fall leaves graced the center of our table. We slipped our secret bids into a gold envelope which would determine the fate of the centerpieces at the end of the evening.

 

Journey of Hope

 

Eric Franke, our emcee from channel 3000, opened the program. Defying social etiquette, he endorsed the use of cell phones during dinner. Throughout the evening, we grabbed our phones and continued to bid on the silent auction items.

 

After dinner, the program began with a video highlighting the faculty and staff of dedicated researchers. As grateful patients shared their stories, they encouraged the doctors, reminding them of how important their research is in prolonging the lives of women with gynecologic cancers. The University of Wisconsin ranks thirteenth in the nation for gynecology. Sparkle of Hope dollars allow junior researchers to start projects that may lead to national grants.

 

Cutting-Edge

 

Dr. Lisa Barroilhet shared how the last three years have yielded exciting strides in the field of ovarian cancer research with the introduction of PARP inhibitors, a type of targeted therapy. PARP inhibitors attack the cancer cells without harming normal cells. Even though they are still classified as chemotherapy, they are taken orally, allowing women to live fairly normal lives at home. For some women, these drugs have stabilized their ovarian cancer. For others, the tumors have shrunk to the point that there is no evidence of disease.

 

Diamond Revealed

 

The time had come to reveal the results of the Diamond Dig. We held up our tickets while volunteers clutching the gold bags weaved in and out among the tables, exchanging our tickets for a bag. Once all the bags were distributed, we simultaneously yanked out the tissue paper. Where is the diamond necklace? From the other side of the room, a cry rings out—the diamond! The rest of us console ourselves with the gourmet chocolates tucked in our bags.

 

Lively Auction

 

Spotters scattered throughout the ballroom in preparation for the live auction. Let the bidding begin: a Madison adventure package featuring a premier suite and a private flight over Madison, a diamond earring and bracelet set, custom diamond drop earrings, a Camp Randall VIP package including football tickets and a guest conductor spot with the UW marching band, or Cheering for Charity—a private party with the UW basketball coach and his wife at their home during a Badger football away game.

 

Fervent Finale

 

Stephanie closed the evening sharing the photos and stories of other ovarian cancer survivors as well as the latest chapter of her story. Last year, Stephanie had a recurrence and started the PARP targeted therapy. Today she has no evidence of disease. This past summer, Stephanie also got married. At the suggestion of a friend, instead of clinking glasses, the wedding guests dropped money in a kissing jar, raising $700 for Sparkle of Hope.

 

The call for last minute donations initiated a flurry of cell phone activity. Names of donors along with dollar amounts flashed across the screens to reach the goal of $150,000.

 

Thank you to our generous sponsors and donors who made Sparkle of Hope possible. Total dollars raised? $168,000!

 

Happy 10th anniversary, Sparkle of Hope!

 

 

 

 

Not All Female Cancers Are Pink

 

 

 

 

 

Pink lights illuminate bridges, state capitols and city landmarks. Runners, walkers and strollers race for the cure. Pink ribbons embellish bags, jewelry, hats and t-shirts. Teas, brunches and banquets raise funds for breast cancer research. Even NFL players sport pink in October.

 

Think pink! Wear pink! Celebrate pink! October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We celebrate breast cancer survivors.

 

Breast cancer is the second most common cancer that affects women. The female cancer with the lowest survival rate, though, is ovarian cancer.

 

Are you aware that there is a connection between breast cancer and ovarian cancer?

 

I am an ovarian cancer survivor. We had no family history of ovarian cancer. My aunt had breast cancer after the age of 50. My personal risks for ovarian cancer included endometriosis, no children and obesity. In 2006, I rolled over in bed and felt a firm grapefruit-size mass in my abdomen. My ovarian cancer journey began.

 

As a breast cancer survivor, could you also be at risk for ovarian cancer?

 

 

Risk Factors for Ovarian Cancer

 

BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations can cause cancer. Of all women with breast cancer, 5-10% carry these gene mutations. According to the Foundation of Women’s Health, a BRCA1 mutation carries a 39-46% increased risk of ovarian cancer. A BRCA2 mutation carries a 10-27% increased risk of ovarian cancer.

 

A personal diagnosis of breast cancer before the age of 45.

 

A close blood relative diagnosed with ovarian cancer at any age.

 

A personal diagnosis of breast cancer before age 50 and a blood relative with breast cancer before age 50.

 

Two or more close relatives on the same side of the family with breast cancer before the age of 50.

 

Ashkenazi Jewish descent. 1 in 40 carry BRCA mutations.

 

 

Why Ovarian Cancer Has a Low Survival Rate

 

 

There are no screening tests for ovarian cancer. Early diagnosis greatly improves a woman’s chances of survival. But the vague symptoms often mimic gastrointestinal disorders that can be easily ignored or misdiagnosed. Many women are diagnosed in the latter stages and therefore experience a poorer prognosis.

 

What Can We Do?

 

Being aware of changes in your own body is your best defense for early detection of ovarian cancer. If the following symptoms persist for several weeks, please consult a gynecologist.

 

The Most Common Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

 

  • Persistent bloating with an increase in the size of the abdomen
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Feeling full quickly after eating
  • Urinary urgency or frequency

 

 

As we celebrate breast cancer survivors, let us remember that not all female cancers are pink. Do you know your risk for ovarian cancer? Listen for the symptoms that whisper.

 

 

 

 

SaveSave

Cancer: A Word that Strikes Terror

 

 

 

Are there certain words that trigger pressure in your chest or tightness in your throat?

 

 

For me, that word is cancer.

 

 

I am an ovarian cancer survivor.

 

 

My Story

 

 

During the summer of 2006, Every time I had another bout of nausea, I brushed thoughts of ovarian cancer from my mind. Surely these spells were too infrequent to be cancer.

 

 

But in September, I rolled over in bed and felt a grapefruit-size mass in my abdomen. I closed my eyes and dismissed the whispers of ovarian cancer.

 

 

Several weeks later, I almost shot off the table when my physical therapist palpated my spine to isolate the location of my back pain. It’s not in my back, it’s jabbing through my abdomen!

 

 

My gynecologist suspected a uterine fibroid and ordered an ultrasound. Even in the dark room, I saw the ultrasound tech lock her eyes on mine. Something is seriously wrong.

 

 

Gripping the ultrasound report in her hand, my doctor said, “You have ovarian cancer, the size of a cantaloupe.” She rattled off all that needed done—scheduling tests and surgery. I barely heard her words. Was she talking to me?

 

 

When I walked into the hospital on surgery day, I exchanged my scrubs and nurse shoes for tieback gowns and skid-free slipper socks. The surgeon removed a volleyball-size tumor—ovarian cancer.

 

 

Today, I am cancer-free. During my treatment, I lost myself to ovarian cancer, but in losing myself, I found a new purpose and calling. Today I have an encouragement ministry to women undergoing chemotherapy. I advocate for and educate women and healthcare professionals regarding ovarian cancer. I write articles so that other women won’t put off getting checked out if they have any signs or symptoms, like I did.

 

 

September is National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Ovarian cancer is the most lethal of all female cancers. The symptoms women experience prior to diagnosis may be vague or similar to other diseases. This causes some doctors to rule out other causes before they discover ovarian cancer, which is why it is often not diagnosed until later stages.

 

 

Ovarian cancer used to be called the silent killer, but survival rates are high if discovered in the early stages. Learn from my story. Will you listen for the whispers of ovarian cancer?

 

 

 

Contact your doctor if the following symptoms of ovarian cancer persist:

 

·      Gastrointestinal symptoms:

Bloating, indigestion, nausea, feeling full or loss of appetite

·      Pelvic or low back pressure or pain

·      Urinating more frequently

·      Changes in bowel patterns

·      Tired or low energy

Pursuing Happiness? Upgrade to Joy

 

 

In the pursuit of happiness, I have filled my life with many things. Some I regret, some were wonderful gifts, but none filled the void deep within.

 

When I pursued happiness, I discovered that eventually the surge of pleasure dissipated. The negative emotions I attempted to suppress—hurt, grief, sadness, loneliness—once again surfaced, and I felt empty. I scrambled for the next available object or relationship to fill that void, desperately hoping to restore bliss. I often based my happiness on my circumstances.

 

 

Many of us strive for contentment. We may regret some of our choices. Shopping therapy may lift our moods—until we receive the credit card bill. Whether lonely, tired or depressed, we know chocolates boost our spirits— until we glare at the digits on the scale. Addictions drive us with unquenchable thirst that demands a fix, surpassing the previous high. We get involved in wrong relationships. These derail our destinies and hurtle us down destructive paths, leaving a wake of devastation.

 

 

We look for fulfillment not only in these temporary pleasures, but our blessings as well. Traveling to exotic places can be exhilarating, but once we arrive home, the sights and sounds are relegated to memory. We throw ourselves into our jobs, chasing the next promotion, a different boss or more money. We purchase larger houses with higher mortgages. We fill them with pets whose soulful eyes beg us to take them home.

 

 

Relationships are one of the greatest gifts God has given us to enjoy. From childhood, a girl dreams of her wedding day, gliding down the aisle clothed in a princess gown to meet her groom. Oops, the knight in shining armor has fallen off his horse AGAIN! Next comes the arrival of a darling bundle of joy. Ten tiny toes and fingers plunged into adorable outfits. But soon come sleepless nights, terrible twos and rebellious teens.

 

 

We often expect these blessings to fill the deep void inside of us. But when happiness eludes us because of unfulfilled expectations, barbs of emptiness stab at our hearts. It is during these seasons of disappointment, hurt and disillusionment that we become offended and bitterness takes root. Unfortunately, we sometimes trash relationships we once treasured.

 

 

Maybe we need to upgrade our pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of joy.

 

 

Joy is eternal. It transcends our circumstances. Joy comes easy during our mountaintop adventures. But we can also experience joy in seasons of deep sorrow. Joy is the fruit of the Spirit that comes from the presence of Jesus in our lives. He is the only one who can fill the empty places, heal our broken hearts and restore joy. When we pursue Jesus and His presence, we experience His joy.

 

 

Psalm 16:11 NKJV says, “In His presence is the fullness of joy.”

 

 

How can we upgrade happiness to joy?

 

 

Thanksgiving

We thank God for all He has given us, acknowledging that all we have comes from Him. Expressing words of gratitude leads us to contentment and joy.

 

Praise

Praise opens the door to the presence of God. In praise and worship, we take our eyes off ourselves and our concerns and turn our gazes toward God. We focus on who He is— His character, His majesty, His glory—and we are filled with His joy.

 

Scripture

When we reflect on the truth of God’s Word, we discover His character—His compassion, His mercy and His love for us. His promises offer us comfort, peace, hope and joy.

 

Testimony

Reading or listening to the real-life stories of how God rescued others in the midst of their suffering restores hope and stirs our joy.

 

Helping Others

Reaching out to others takes our eyes off ourselves. We focus on the needs of another person. In our giving, we please God, the giver of life, and He allows us to share in His joy.

 

Forgive

Corrie ten Boom said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.” Forgiveness generates joy.

 

 

In the presence of God I have been changed. I discovered that He has enabled me to do the seemingly impossible—believe, trust and forgive.

 

 

How can you upgrade from the pursuit of happiness to the pursuit of joy?

 

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Press into Liberty

 

 

July, the month we celebrate liberty. We wave our flags, shoot off fireworks, and host cookouts. We proudly blast our national anthem.

 

 

But sometimes we long for the freedom we sing about in “The Star Spangled Banner”. We may have endured a season of battle, targeted by the lies of the enemy in the pitch of night. We wonder if we will ever see the light of dawn. Like our frayed stars and stripes, we feel tattered and torn. We wave and scream through the smoke, “I’m still here!”

 

 

God says:

 

You are not forgotten (Isaiah 49:15)

 

You are not alone (John 14:18)

 

You are victorious (1 Corinthians15:57)

 

 

I experienced such a battle. I am an ovarian cancer survivor. Chemotherapy threatened my life. It induced baldness, brain fog, debilitating fatigue and crushing chest pain. Would I survive this assault on my body and the “what ifs” that pummeled my mind?

 

 

God says:

 

You are created for a purpose (Ephesians 2:10)

 

You are beautiful (Song of Songs 4:7)

 

You are courageous (Joshua 1:9)

 

 

Life’s events can rip us apart. We wonder if we will ever be whole again. Don’t give up! God has not given up on you. He gathers the tattered remnants of our lives and weaves them into an unfurled banner reflecting His glory.

 

 

God says:

 

You are chosen (Ephesians 1:11)

 

You are forgiven (1 John 1:9)

 

You are precious (Isaiah 43:4)

 

 

Do you feel as though doubts and lies have assailed you? In the midst of the battle, remember the truth of who you are and press into liberty.

 

God says:

 

You are loved (Jeremiah 31:3)

 

You are accepted (Ephesians 1:6)

 

You are free (Galatians 5:1)

 

 

 

 

Wave your flag of freedom!

 

 

 

SaveSave

Cruise Camp Mak-A-Dream

 

 

“Bon voyage!”

 

 

These shouts echo in the ears of passengers as their cruise ship shoves off from port, the familiar fading into the distance.

 

 

But at Camp Mak-A-Dream, we entered our own high seas adventure greeted by Love Boat’s Julie for our theme night—a cruise ship.

 

 

We are ovarian cancer survivors. Many of us donned sailor costumes, having navigated the uncharted waters of ovarian cancer and chemotherapy. Some wore white T-shirts emblazoned across the front: “I refuse to sink.”

 

 

Another camper sported a captain’s hat and grasped a life preserver ring. A reminder that on the choppy waters of ovarian cancer, we grab our life preservers and hold on.

 

 

Campers in formals, furs and glitz waltzed through our ship, embracing the glamour, and for one night forgetting the baggage we would rather leave behind. We admired costumed tables topped with hand-sewn delicacies while we nibbled on the chef’s specialties.

 

 

We frolicked with dolphins, cruised through shark-infested waters and encountered a life-size Captain Jack. His captain’s wheel beckoned us. How we longed to captain our own ship, grip the wheel, steer into a cancer-free harbor and drop anchor in the sea of hope.

 

 

At Camp Mak-A-Dream, nestled in the Rockies near Missoula Montana, ovarian cancer survivors find hope. We find hope in the testimonies and courage of other survivors who have navigated the waters of ovarian cancer, despite setbacks. New treatments are shared. And one day, we hope for a cure.

 

 

June is National Camping Month. So this is a good time to plan your trip to Camp Mak-A-Dream. Registration is now open for the fall ovarian cancer camp. If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, consider embarking on this adventure. The camp is free of charge to ovarian cancer survivors.

 

 

Bon voyage!

 

Link: http://www.campdream.org

 

 

 

I Survived Ovarian Cancer!

 

 

Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day. I am an ovarian cancer survivor.

 

I had observed the ravages of cancer and chemotherapy inflicted upon my patients as an oncology nurse. But I joined their ranks when ovarian cancer flung me to the other side of the bed. Nursing scrubs and shoes gave way to tieback gowns and skid-free gripper socks. I was dragged through the theme park of cancer with its midway of fears that assailed me and chemotherapy that pummeled me. The tune, “What if?” revolved around my mind like a crazed carousel. How I yearned to grasp the switch that would halt this fearsome ride.

 

But I survived the malaise, pain and nausea that stormed my body. I survived the emotional roller coaster, spewing its negativity. Bleach-tipped hair burst forth from my bald scalp. Eyebrows and eyelashes reappeared. By the grace of God, I exchanged the fog of chemo brain for mental clarity.

 

Several months later, I donned my nursing scrubs and resumed my career.

 

Today, I have a comfortable lead in my race against ovarian cancer. I am a survivor.

 

There is no test for ovarian cancer. It is often diagnosed in the latter stages due to its vague symptoms easily ignored.

 

Today is World Ovarian Cancer Day. Let us raise awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer:

 

                        *  Abdominal bloating

                        *  Pelvic discomfort or pain

                        *  Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea

                        *  Feeling full or loss of appetite

                        *  Changes in bowel patterns

                        *  Urinary frequency

                        *  Abdominal or low back pain

12 Steps to Spiritual Wellness (Even During Illness)

 

 

 

 

 

March is spiritual wellness month. I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that it usually coincides with the liturgical season of lent, a time when Christians focus on how the death and resurrection of Christ have transformed our lives.

 

We are a triune being—spirit, soul and body, so interrelated that the lack of health and wellness in one part of our being affects the other parts.

 

So, what is spiritual wellness?

 

For me, spiritual wellness is knowing who I am in Christ, and recognizing that He has a plan and purpose for my life.

 

But how do I maintain spiritual wellness when I feel as though my identity and purpose is derailed by illness?

 

That was the question I asked myself when I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I lost my job and my hair, and endured a chemotherapy that seemingly stripped me of my identity, plans and purpose.

 

But God did not leave me stranded in my malady. As I called out to Him, struggling over time, I discovered the following steps to help restore my spiritual health.

 

12 steps to spiritual wellness:

 

1.   Journaling – I find writing my thoughts, prayers and feelings helpful as I sort through the plethora of emotions that churn during a health crisis.

 

2.   Scripture – I ask God to reveal to me what verses are relevant to my situation. Then I read and pray these verses, sometimes over and over. I find the Psalms especially comforting as they cover the gamut of my emotional reactions to illness: sadness, loss, depression, betrayal, grief, fear, anxiety and anger.

 

3.   Prayer and Praise – Prayer and praise help me to focus on who God is. They help me recognize that, when I feel like my life is out of control, the God of the universe knows exactly what I am going through. He understands me, loves me and has compassion on me. Prayer does not always change my circumstances. But prayer changes me and offers me the ability to cope with my circumstances.

 

4.   Healthy Relationships – My relationships are among the greatest blessings God has given me. These are the people who have laughed, cried and prayed with me, and helped me through times of crisis. They have been instrumental in honing my character, forming my identity and defining my purpose.

 

5.   Rest and Relaxation –When I take time to do the things I enjoy, I feel refreshed, whether I read a book, watch a movie, take up in a hobby, listen to music or play an instrument. I find spending time outdoors invigorates me. I love the warmth of the sun on my face and the gentle breezes. Whether my scenery includes mountains, lakes, wildlife, flowers or simply the view from a park bench, the wonder of creation reminds me that no matter what is happening in my life, there is still beauty in my world.

 

6.   Exercise – When I exercise, I need to remember to choose activities within my current physical limitations. I found this out when I attempted to take a short walk and almost didn’t make it home. Exercise boosts my mood, helps me sleep better and increases my energy.

 

7.   Laughter – Whether I peruse Far Side cartoon books, watch reruns of I Love Lucy or spend time with funny people, I love to laugh. Laughter releases endorphins and stimulates the immune system. According to Proverbs 17:22, “A happy heart is good medicine and a joyful mind causes healing.”

 

8.   Let Go – The word for me this year is “Let go!” Let go of anger, bitterness and resentment, the toxic emotions that drain my energy and strength. Negative emotions suppress our immune systems, and contribute to muscle tension, digestive disorders, stress, depression and anxiety.

 

9.   Confession – When I confess my sins, I acknowledge that I have made wrong choices. I in turn receive forgiveness and the opportunity to make right choices. I am reconciled to God and people, which opens the door to healing from the effects of my sin.

 

10.   Forgive – When I forgive someone who hurt me, my relationship with God is restored, and I release the other person from my wrath and judgment. I love this quote by Marianne Williamson—“Unforgiveness is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.” Refusing to forgive another only harms me.

 

11.   Helping Others – When I help others, I reaffirm my sense of purpose. I may not be able to do for others to the extent I was able when I was healthy, but sometimes a simple phone call, text, or a card can bless another person. Doing for another others brings joy, combats depression and reduces stress.

 

12.   Take a deep breath – A deep breath helps to calm me when I am anxious or stressed. Sometimes I take a deep breath before I open my mouth to speak so that I respond to a conflict rather than react and generate more tension.

 

 

How have you learned to restore spiritual wellness during your health crisis?

Love Is…(9 Acts of Love Recounted by Cancer Survivors)

 

 

Love—romance, flowers, hearts, chocolates and Valentine’s Day.

 

 

But is this really love?

 

 

I asked my fellow cancer survivors the following question—What acts of kindness expressed love to you when you were diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemotherapy?

 

 

Let us count the ways:

 

 

  1. 1.   Prayer – Cancer is bigger than we are, but not bigger than God. Many of us experienced the love of God through the outpouring of prayers whether offered by individuals, or through organized prayer chains. For example, a friend of one survivor set up a 24-hour prayer vigil during her first surgery. The night shift slots filled in first for the 15-minute increments of prayer.

 

  1. 2.   Meals – Whether scheduled meals organized on spreadsheets, refrigerators filled with a cuisine prepared by gourmet restaurants, lunch dates, or homemade bean soup to warm the belly of a caregiver, food conveyed comfort and love.

 

  1. 3.   Home and lawn care – Friends vacuumed, scoured bathrooms, emptied garbage, did laundry and even cleaned the litter box. Some offered free housecleaning for a period of time. Volunteers mowed the lawn, raked the leaves and shoveled snow.

 

  1. 4.   Treatment support – The medication regime and generalized weakness necessitated transportation to and from chemotherapy treatments and doctors’ appointments. Juggling rides, meals, cleaning and shopping while undergoing treatments can be exhausting, so one friend set up a list of contacts of those who wanted to help and then acted as point person to fill the need. We appreciate all of those who sat with us, prayed with us and encouraged us during our infusions, sometimes lasting the better part of the day. When one survivor needed a companion to stay with her during six weeks of radiotherapy, her friends each spent a week of vacation time to hang with her.

 

  1. 5.   Finances – A cancer diagnosis is costly. We are grateful to those who orchestrated collections, raffles, fundraisers, GoFundMe pages and MedGift. One group raised funds to enable a friend to have a second opinion at a major cancer center. Co-workers donated their paid time off. Even children operating a lemonade stand, offered a sweet contribution.

 

  1. 6.   Personal care – It is frightening and humbling when we are unable to care for ourselves. When a wife was too weak to feed herself, her husband stepped up to the plate. One daughter flushed her mother’s PICC line every morning for months on her way to work. Another daughter changed her mother’s surgical dressing each day for months. When one woman was unable to shower after surgery, friends and family arranged a hair-washing soiree.

 

  1. 7.   Gifts – We received many lovely and thoughtful gifts: wigs, hats, scarves, prayer shawls, hand made quilts, knitted socks, blankets, cardigans, gift cards, flowers, lotions, magazines, Ipads, puzzle books, devotional books, adult coloring books, Far Side cartoon books and encouraging cards. Earrings, pearls, crystal bracelets, and ribbon necklaces provided the bling. Chemo bags bulged with the above items, but more importantly brimmed with love. One woman received 80 pairs of Lularue leggings. Some received Spa days and massages. Another received a book from a friend she hadn’t seen in forty years—The Little Engine That Could.

 

  1. 8.   Time – Cancer isolates us. We are grateful to those who visited us when we were sick, listened to our concerns, prayed with us, laughed with us, called us throughout the day to let us know we were in their thoughts and prayers. There were the long nights in the hospital with loved ones where we happily relinquished sole control of the remote. We cannot forget the children who tucked their grandma into bed at night and read to her.

 

  1. 9.   Crazy love – Individual and unique acts of love offered by family and friends.

 

  •    *  While too sick to get off the sofa, a friend painted the entire  apartment with odorless paint.

 

  •    *  The students and co-workers of a teacher shaved their heads in solidarity.

 

  •    *   One woman struggled with her daily alternative treatment—a coffee enema. While she was at work, her engineer husband mastered the technique on himself and then instructed his wife step-by-step.

 

  •    *   The sister and friends of one survivor surprised her with concert tickets to see her favorite musical artist, arranging a security escort with flashing lights and a backstage pass.

 

  •    *   Love rivaled a Hallmark movie when a survivor’s boyfriend proposed to her after her third chemotherapy treatment. One week later, wedding bells chimed.

 

 

 

These expressions of love include many faces and facets of kindness.

 

But what is love? According to I Corinthians 13, love is patient, love is kind, and love endures all things—even cancer.

 

 

 

Joanie with water bottle
Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On Pinterest