IT’S CANCER || NOW WHAT?

I’ve been approached MANY times by friends who have recently learned someone in their lives has been diagnosed with cancer. I have been asked many questions about how they should react, what they can do, how they can help, what kinds of things helped me the most. I’ve been asked how to help during treatment, how to help when there isn’t anything else they can do and they know their loved one is going to die, and how to help during the funeral. I thought it might be helpful to write down everything I can think of – I’m sure I’ll still forget things – but, I’m hoping it will be a good resource that I can share when I’m asked next time. {unfortunately, I’m sure I will be!} 

This is ALL from MY experience, I know that everyone’s experience is different and everyone will need different things!!

First of all, remember that the first few days everyone is just in complete shock. Suddenly your entire world stops moving. You can’t eat, can’t sleep, can’t stop thinking about the uncertainty of the future. You don’t want to do normal things. You don’t want to act “ok” around people. You want to cry, scream, be depressed, yell, be angry….and EVERY other emotion you’ve ever felt. Sometimes you find out about someone in your life who has cancer, a friend, or family member, and you can’t share it with anyone. Sometimes you don’t know how much to share. It’s a very complicated, uncertain place to be. Some of my thoughts on this are:

First of all, TRY not to ask “what can I do?” There is no answer to this question. There is nothing that would make it any better except to take away the cancer and have your loved one healed. If you think of something that you can do, JUST DO IT!!! EVERY call, text, letter, card, gift, show of support, and prayer is felt. Listen to the Holy Spirit and follow any prompting that you receive. I testify that on some of the hardest days, during some of the hardest times, I would receive a blessing that I KNOW came directly from my loving Heavenly Father through pure inspiration, do not put off a prompting, you just might be His hands sending a message of love and hope on a really hard day.

THE FIRST FEW DAYS OR WEEKS:

  • It’s ok to NOT be ok. It’s ok to be “unavailabe” and not follow through with everything you had planned. It’s ok to cancel plans, to breath, to let go of things that don’t HAVE to be done right then. And it’s ok to not give any explanation. 
  • You’re life has just changed drastically, it’s ok to grieve. It’s ok to cry, scream, yell, be angry and depressed. You need to feel all of these emotions and let them process to be able to move forward. You need to be able to fall apart, as many times as you need to.
  • BE POSITIVE, but don’t make any promises.
  • Talk about it if you want to, don’t talk about it if you don’t want to….ANYTHING is ok during this time.
  • If you can, reach out to someone who understands what you are going through. They might not be in the exact same situation, but we all have a friend or family member who we know has been through hard times. Reach out for encouragement, love and understanding. {remember I am ALWAYS available to reach out to!!}
  • Pray, PRAY, and PRAY some more – For strength, and peace. 
  • Call your loved one’s name into the temple, and ask your friends and family to do the same!
  • You will feel completely helpless, and you will want to DO something. Find something you can focus on that might be helpful:Some ideas include:
    • Set up a fundraiser – we had several lemonade stand sales, a Go Fund Me page and a bank account set up in her name
    • Find out the color for their type of cancer and share it with those around you – Teal will never be the same for our family and friends. 
    • If you want one, decide on a name for your friends fight – We formed Team Cindy within the first few hours of her diagnosis. It helped us feel united and receive strength from those who shared our story by using our “Team” name.
    • Have someone design a logo or graphic that you can use to unite your family and friends and share online as a reminder of those who are fighting with you – I designed my mom’s and I’m always willing to help design something for you!
    • Design and make shirts to sell – we had Team Cindy shirts made by a friend who donated the cost of the printing so we could make a bigger profit on the ones we sold, we wore them every chance we could, but we had several really hard days when we asked everyone to wear them with us, it gave us strength to see others honoring our mother.
    • Order bracelets to unite your family as you fight together – we ordered ours online and you have to purchase a large quantity to get the best price, sell them at every fundraiser you plan. We ordered adult and child sizes and most small/medium adults can wear the child size. {I prefer the child size}.
    • Come up with a family motto to use while your going through this trial –  ours was Doubt Not, Fear Not – Taken from D&C 6:36
    • Organize a way to get information out to those who will want updates – We made a Team Cindy group page on Facebook so we could post updates to everyone who wanted them. There was a list of people who did not have Facebook, so one of my friends would copy the Facebook post and email it to those who didn’t have FaceBook. I didn’t have to worry about anyone getting updates, and I only had to post it once on FaceBook. 
    • If possible, come up with one main contact person who can share information – This was most important when things were changing several times a day and we received a million texts asking for updates. It was so hard to navigate sharing information with everyone who loves and cares for each one of us. Most updates were posted on Team Cindy by me, I would write them with my family and we would decide what we needed to share.
    • Only share as much as you are comfortable sharing with those around you. Everyone does NOT need to know everything that is going on. We are pretty much an open book and we shared our entire story, but I recognize that not everyone is comfortable with sharing as much as we did, and you DON’T have to!!
    • Unite together in fasting and prayer. Ask your family and friends to fast and pray for your family and your loved one – I personally received so much strength and courage through the prayers and faith of those around me during those hard 4 months. I felt a strength that I’ve never felt before, and haven’t felt as much since, through the united fasting and prayers on behalf of our family.
    • Send a card, text, letter, or message to your loved one, AND their family members. There are 7 children in our family, some of our wards and friends were our biggest supporters, and they didn’t even know my mom. We received meals, letters, messages, stamps {very helpful to send thank you cards}, money, treats, flowers, and LOTS of love!! Reach out to extended family members as they will all be struggling in different ways.
    • BREATHE and take ONE THING AT A TIME, remember this is a time with a LOT of uncertainty – this was one of the hardest times of my life and I needed to stop and breathe so many time, I needed to let myself feel all of the emotions I was feeling during that time, I needed time to process this new normal in my life. 

DURING TREATMENT – every situation is very different!

  • In our situation Mom was already so sick before we started treatment. She never really got out of bed or went anywhere once she was diagnosed. I know this is not always the case, so remember this is from my experience. 
  • You will have good days, and bad days – cherish the good days and breathe through the bad days. Hang on and make sure to take some time for yourself. Get a pedicure {in the cancer color if you want}, pray, meditate, read a good article, find an inspirational post to brighten your day, reach out to a friend. 
  • Be aware of your loved ones desire for visitors – CAN they even have visitors? Do they WANT visitors? How do they feel about hospital visitors versus home visitors. It is PERFECTLY OK to turn visitors away if your loved one in not feeling up to it or is having a hard day. 
  • Be very AWARE of germs. Most of the time when your loved one is having cancer treatments, their immune system is very weak. Usually it is better to keep small children, who carry lots of germs, and unhealthy friends away. 
  • Make everyone wash their hands and use hand sanitizer when they come to visit. Do NOT worry what they think when you ask them. This is to protect your loved one from what could be life threatening germs.
  • Drop off a gift at the front door and don’t visit – it was very overwhelming and tiring for mom to have visitors, but she never wanted to turn anyone away so she would always let them visit.
  • Find things that help your loved one during treatment, each person is different and will want different things. Some of the things that helped mom were:
    • Hard candy, usually mint
    • Ice chips
    • ANYTHING she was craving that we could get her to eat!! {she didn’t eat at all!}
    • TV shows – she watched “Michael & Kelly” and “Family Fued” everyday!!
    • A friend came and read to her and shared stories with her.
    • Another friend came and sang to her.
    • Mom loved us to massage her hands and feet and rub lotion on them.
    • Paint their nails, or do their hair. 
    • Find comfortable clothes for them to wear. Mom was so uncomfortable all the time that we went and bought her nightgowns and casual dresses to wear so she didn’t have to put on pants and get “dressed” everyday.
  • Sit with them in their grief, be with them in their pain, cry with them through the uncertainty. 
  • Say ANYTHING to them that you feel you need to, cherish every moment you have with them. Do NOT have any regrets – This is one of my greatest blessings, I am so grateful I was able to share my heart with my mom before she passed away. I knew that I had told her everything I needed to and I knew that she loved me.
  • Spend as much time with them as you can – I was so blessed to be able to spend so much time with my mom when she was sick. I consider it one of the greatest tender mercies of this journey.

WHEN EVERYTHING CHANGED:

When we first found out that mom wasn’t going to make it and that we would be bringing her home on hospice to live her final days on earth, we were all devastated. Up until just the week before, we thought she was doing ok. We thought she was just sick from the treatments and that once we could get through them, she would get better. We knew she had cancer. We knew from the minute she was diagnosed that this could be our outcome, but we had been fighting SO HARD to get her better and we were not prepared for it to end so suddenly.

So, what can you do? What is helpful during this time?

  • Be aware and considerate of the families time with their loved one. Mom had so many visitors that we finally had to ask them to stop coming so we could spend some time with her. We loved that so many people wanted to say good-bye to her, but I remember one night she said to me, “I can’t do this anymore, please tell them to stop coming, it’s like I am alive at my own funeral and I can’t do it anymore.”
  • Pray for peace and comfort for their family. 
  • Put their names on the prayer roll in the temple.
  • Send texts and messages of love, but don’t be upset if they don’t respond. 
  • Drop food or treats off at their house if you are able. This is to support the caregivers who do not want to leave their loved ones side. – We did not leave the house unless we absolutely had to for the entire week mom was home on hospice. Nobody wanted to miss anything and we had no way of knowing when things would change.
  • Offer to watch small children.
  • Organize meals to be brought in to the family. Nobody wanted to think about eating during this time and none of us would have if we hadn’t had them delivered each night. We all needed to eat and stay healthy during this time, but even thinking about what to eat was too hard.
  • Send flowers, cards or gifts to the family members who are taking care of their loved one. We appreciated every time we received love and support from our friends.

PREPARING FOR THE FUNERAL:

This is something you never want to have to do. Those first few days, I couldn’t believe we were planning my mom’s funeral. We were lucky enough that we were able to ask her what she wanted for her funeral and she made most of the plans before she passed away. The following are some ideas of things that might be helpful as you prepare for a funeral.

  • Offer to watch any small children during the viewing and the funeral. None of the family should have to leave the funeral with an upset child. I would have NEVER though about this before my mom’s {or my sister-in-laws} funeral. 
  • Suggest they find someone to take photos or hire a photographer. I know this sounds a little strange, but you will cherish those photos in the future. Seriously, hire a photographer!!
  • Suggest they wear the cancer color to the funeral. This was SO uniting for our family. I love the photos we have in our teal clothes. It reminds me of the love everyone has for my mamma.
  • Make arrangements to have dinner/sandwiches/food during the night of the viewing. Most of the day is spent getting ready and making funeral preparations and some of the family may have not eaten all day.
  • Assign a ward member or friend to clean up the display items and take them to your house. – I totally forgot about cleaning up the display after we had been to the cemetery and went to the family dinner. I was totally completely exhausted and I was so tired with I got the text that I needed to come clean it up and bring it all home because there was a wedding at that church building that same evening. 
  • Some thoughts for the immediate family:
    • Everyone will be exhausted after the viewing. You will probably plan a short viewing before the funeral the next morning so try not to plan the funeral to start too early – I know you might not have any control over this, but you might suggest it if you are able to.
    • Suggest the pallbearers all wear matching ties. I know this sounds a little silly, but once again they will all feel united and every time they wear their tie after the funeral they will think if their loved one. 
    • Let the children have as little or as much contact with the casket as they want, let them lead. We had children who had no problem and wanted to see her and kiss her and be right in the middle of everything. We had others who wanted nothing to do with it. It’s ok either way and they need to grieve in their own way.
    • As a family, take as much time as you need to say goodbye on the day of the viewing and the funeral. This is your time. This is your family celebration. Let everyone have a chance to say good-bye. This is one of my favorite photos, united as siblings with dad in a circle of love, just before we closed the casket.

I wish I didn’t have to write this post and I wish that you weren’t reading it because you know someone who has cancer. I wish we lived in a world without cancer. I wish my mom had lived and that she was still here with me today. BUT, I am a different person because of this trial our family has been asked to endure. I am aware of so many things that I would never have known before. I am more compassionate, more empathetic, more loving and more forgiving. I am closer to my family than I have ever been. We are a united team. We don’t have to agree with everything each person is doing, we know that at the end of the day, we would do ANYTHING we needed to for one another.

I hope you find something helpful in this post. I hope you feel hope and peace. I am more than willing to answer any questions you might have or give you any other specifics you want. I am also willing to pray for you, for your loved one and for your family.

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