When I was diagnosed with stage four cancer, I felt as though everything happened so quickly. I sat in the hospital for thirty-eight days while doctors ran various tests to figure out what was wrong with me. While they suspected cancer, I continually advised them not to speak cancer over my life if they could not prove it. I had seven teams of doctors that worked endlessly to figure out what was wrong with me. I felt as though we went in circles for thirty-eight days straight. Thirty-eight days filled with pain, tests, conversations, and what seemed to be redundancy. Let me tell you that the scariest part of being hospitalized for this long was being there with no answers whatsoever. With no answers, that meant no solution(s) and thus no end result, treatment nor game plan in place to know what was taking place next. Talk about the unknown. During this time, my mind thought about every possible issue trying to determine what was wrong with me. I drove myself absolutely crazy. I could only do so much research on Google of my symptoms as I continued to get the same results. It was almost as though I was going insane because I was doing the same thing over and over, yet expecting different results for some reason. You’d be surprised what one would do with that much time on your hands.
Finally, after countless weeks and what felt like an eternity, I heard the words I was dreading to hear the whole time: “You have cancer.” Those three words were scarier than the unknown, because at the time, it felt as though I received my very own death sentence and I didn’t quite know how to handle that. While many people in my family had cancer prior to me, I still had no idea of what to expect. I realized I did not ask those family members enough questions and felt completely lost and hopeless realizing this was a brand-new arena of life I was about to step into. I had absolutely no idea of what to expect.
I learned I had cancer late one afternoon and that same night I was transferred to the oncology center to start my treatment the following day. It all happened so quickly. I did not have time to fully research what I was in for nor ask the “right” questions. I had no time to figure out all that cancer entailed or anything for that matter. I couldn’t do anything but cry the day away and inform my closest friends and family members of the news. I was in complete shock and almost mentally stuck that day. By the time my cancer treatment started the following day, I was not prepared whatsoever. All I knew was that I was trusting the doctors’ words and God’s plan for my life, which within itself was a hard pill to swallow. When informing my closest circle of my new illness, I felt as though I was bombarded with the same questions: “What do you need?” or “What can I do for you?” Truth was, I had no idea what I needed. I had no idea what to expect. I had no idea what to tell people asking me the same question non-stop. All I knew was that I was terrified for my life and I had not been this scared before. As you can imagine, my answer was not helpful to those around me because they were all truly clueless. I wish at that time that my mind could have processed thoughts, feelings, needs or anything for that matter to help better direct them to be there for me the way that my soul truly needed.
After many years of reflecting about this question and reading my fellow fighters’ posts about their same confusion to answer this question, I wanted to create a short list of how supporters could have helped me during that time. My hope is that this will help someone out there who may be struggling to articulate their needs or help a supporter who feels useless in their loved ones’ journey.
How You can Best Support a Cancer Patient…from a fellow Cancer Patient.
1- It’s ok to not have the right words to say; simply be there.
As a cancer warrior, we understand that you may not have the right words to say. Nine times out of ten, you have not been on this journey we are on and that is ok. Please don’t force yourself to find the right words or quotes to say. Being there is more than enough. All that we ask is that you are there as much as you can be. Whether that be in person, by phone or text, sending cards or sending continual prayers. Please be there for us. No matter what we may say or how much we do not want to inconvenience you, we need you now more than ever.
2- Don’t ask your fighter if you can come visit. Just come.
A common question I was asked regularly by supporters was if they can come visit. While I know people are simply being respectful to my time and energy, this was a very challenging question to answer because there never seemed to be a good day or time for visitors, yet I always desired someone to be there with me. My journey was very strenuous as I was on such an aggressive chemotherapy treatment. I was in the hospital for six days at a time for my treatments. I was always exhausted, which made me fall asleep on visitors constantly. When I was awake, I was either sick to my stomach running to and from the restroom, downright depressed, or uncomfortable for some reason or another. Not to mention the doctors and nurses were constantly getting on my last nerve with drawing blood, asking me questions, and making me take medications; all of which made me sick beyond words. The list goes on and on. So, when people asked me this question, I never had a desirable answer. I remember one of the most memorable days of my journey. I was in the hospital having a rough day per usual and my friend Lauren texted me asking if she could come by to visit. I told her not to worry about stopping by that day. I wasn’t feeling great and she had an infant baby so I did not want to inconvenience her at all. I mean, let’s face it, hospitals are not fun and are very much full of germs. Lauren then called me twenty minutes later and said she’s on her way and asked if I needed anything. That made my heart smile beyond this world because the truth was, I certainly needed some company. I needed someone to talk to and something to brighten my day, but I was feeling like more of a burden at the time more than anything. That is when I realized the power of supporters who see past my words and simply act on their own volition. For that, I am forever grateful.
3- Food is usually not the answer, love and support are.
One thing I realized with being in the hospital so much, was that people naturally assumed that I needed or wanted food. For some, that may be the answer, but for me personally, I could not keep food down for the life of me. So, food was not the solution whatsoever. I did discover that there were other helpful things that were brought to me such as soap, toothpaste and toiletry-based items that always came in handy. However, love and support were what was needed most and not necessarily food items.
4- Financial assistance is helpful for many, but we will likely never ask for it.
Everyone is at different phases of life and success when fighting the nature of this beast. However, if a fellow fighter is anything like me, they are not going to openly share how they may in fact need financial support at this time. When I went into the emergency room initially for my pain, I was hospitalized for thirty-eight days while the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me. What many people did not know was that in that time of being hospitalized, I was off of work and not being paid for my time taken. Common sense would say file for disability, right? However, one thing I did not know at the time was that the doctors were unable to file my paperwork until they knew my diagnosis. In other words, they could not hypothetically file paperwork if they found out that I was headed right back to work the next day and they could not assume nor file a temporary claim on my behalf without having a specific diagnosis. Not only was I hospitalized directly following Christmas, which was naturally a financial bounce back season anyway, but I was also unable to be paid during this time. Therefore, I was unable to get some essential items that I needed at the time such as the cold cap that could have helped save my hair, freezing my eggs, or many other critical items I needed at the time. In my case, I simply put things in God’s hands and prayed that He would work everything out during my darkest hours. If the fellow fighter you know is anything like me, they are not going to ask for help. My parents did not quite teach me that. They taught me to be my own help because relying on yourself was always the best bet, so I simply struggled my way through the journey as best as possible. So, if you believe your fellow fighter may in fact need assistance, please give what you can and know that it will be put to good use along the way.
5- Please give your cancer warrior an inspirational gift to help them through their journey.
One of the most common questions I received after being diagnosed was: “What do you need?” Many of my supporters asked me this and truth be told, I had no idea of what I needed. I was new to this thing called cancer and did not have the clear-cut answers everyone expected me to have. I knew I needed things, but I honestly did not know what would resonate with my soul at the time. As I sat in the hospital on many lonely nights, I started to really take time to think about what my cancer community needed. I thought long and hard about finding the right words to say. I prayed for clarity from God to be able to figure this out as I never wanted my future fighters to go through this scary space of confusion and the unknown. I also wanted to provide an answer to my cancer supporters so that they could remove their own thought process and have a simple solution to what cancer warriors truly needed.
This is when and how our journey boxes came to fruition. Our journey boxes were designed to be an answer to our supporters and the exact solution that our fighters crave during the fight of their lives. Ultimately, our journey boxes are made special for the journey ahead. Fortified with faith and vitality for anyone’s fight with cancer. Be fabulous and show homage for the journey with Fighting & Fabulous. Shop our products today at https://www.fightingandfabulous.com/journey-boxes/ and support your cancer warrior.