Because No One Should Face Cancer Alone
As a Cancer Survivor, Caregiver or Companion…Please Share YOUR Words of Encouragement
Your voice will help build this movement and make the journey just a little easier for others.
COMMUNITY ADVICE AND SUPPORT
“Don’t go it alone.”
My struggles with cancer (as a caregiver) were something I was woefully unprepared for. My wife’s diagnosis of colon cancer came as a shock to both of us. What to do? Where to turn? My main resource for information was the internet and Web MD. After the chemo and radiation began, the medical staff I dealt with were compassionate, but often just too busy to give either myself or my wife much of their time.
Lost, afraid, confused; these were just a few of the emotions I experienced. The only person I had to rely on was me, and I had to be strong for both of us. In addition, both our mothers were in failing health at the time, I guess ‘overwhelmed’ would be a good descriptor of the situation. If only Cancer Support Community had existed here in Flagstaff at that time, it would have made things so much easier. My main piece of advice coming out of all this is: “Don’t Go It Alone.” There are so many resources that I am now aware of, that would have facilitated the journey. I am just grateful to know that CSCAZ has stepped in to fill the void as far as education, training, referrals and networking.
“Always believe you will make it through.”
CORAL AND DESTINEY EVANS
Our cancer journey was filled with so many wonderful people including family, friends and also strangers who we met along the way. They provided rides to/from chemo and radiation treatments, brought food, took Destiney ‘to hang out’, called or came over to visit and even came together as part of what they called #TeamCoral. I will be forever grateful to all who ‘rallied’ around us.
Whether you are the one going through cancer, or like Destiney, the wind beneath the wings of someone facing cancer, I want to encourage you to always believe that you will make it through. And if for some reason you are struggling, tell those around you who will then help you get back your faith. It’s hard but you can do this.
“I Can. I Will. End of Story.”
Soon after I was diagnosed, I bought a sign that said: “I Can. I Will. End of Story.” I hung it across from my bed. It was the first thing I saw in the morning and the last thing I saw at night. It became my mantra. When I had moments when I thought that I couldn’t do it, I would repeat it to myself.
“The odds are meaningless; learn everything you can and keep fighting!“
My story is unique because it is not about me, it’s about my son Andy. Andy was diagnosed with a stage 4 Glioblastoma at age 33 while he was running marathons, preparing for law school and overall, living life to the fullest. Two things gave me the strength to walk this journey with him. First, my faith and the prayers of many, many friends, priests and family. Second, Andy’s family has not left his side.
He was married 6 months after the diagnosis to Mary, who has stood by his side and cared for him in good times and challenging ones. They now have 14 month old twins! Entire families on both sides support them all, along with friends from across the country. I did not have the strength to be there for Andy on my own. I gained strength and faith from the support and prayers of a large family network and devoted friends.
I would offer two pieces of advice. First, surround yourself with the support of family and friends. Do not hesitate to soak in their love, support and gifts of any kind. If you don’t have that support readily available, reach out to organizations like the Cancer Support Community in Flagstaff and create your own support group. It will bring needed laughter, love and support to your days. Second, learn everything you can and never lose hope. Andy is now three years post diagnosis, which the odds were against. He has combined integrative medicine with traditional medicine in his care. We have broadened the care team to include many from multiple disciplines. The odds are meaningless; learn everything you can and keep fighting!
“We are all here for you.”
Almost 20 years ago a biopsy confirmed that I had breast cancer. What followed was a year of surgery, chemo and radiation. A village of supportive family and friends helped me through and kept my spirits up. You are not in this alone. Reach out and receive the love, help, and support of your community. Trust in yourself and in your medical team. We are all here for you.
“Cancer empowered me to appreciate my world.”
Cancer didn’t define my life. Cancer empowered me to appreciate my world. To love more deeply, smile more often, and breath life into every moment of everyday. Today is is first day of the rest of my life. Shout from the top of the world! I AM A SURVIVOR!
“Talk, share, don’t be afraid to yell, scream, ask why me, tell your story, if need be cry.”
RICH AND JULIANNE HARTZELL
Every time something happens with the person with cancer, immediately the mind goes all of the – what ifs… “It” is now part of your life but don’t let it run or ruin it! (Easier said than done – but those words are true.)
When our journey with my husband’s cancer began I immediately turned to my faith. I knew and now know even more strongly what prayer means and how the prayers of others are of such support. I’ve learned to appreciate someone asking how we are doing. (Though at times people don’t know what to say or ask – and that is ok.)
Our family has been of such a great support. They have surrounded us with so much love and care. We have always been a close family, but this just seemed to bring us even closer. At first it was like, we are the parents; they don’t need this on their shoulders. HOW WRONG could I have been? Family and friends can be so important, and we often leave them out thinking we are helping or protecting them. They need to know what is going on and be allowed in to share.
When this began, through Rich’s oncology doctor, we were able to find a psychologist, who was of a great help to both of us. At times she met with both me and Rich. She helped us see, especially me, that I too was feeling alone and scared, though I didn’t even recognize it or perhaps wanted to admit it. After all, I’m the strong one and I had to be that way for Rich and the family. Meeting with her helped me to recognize that it was and is alright to feel that way – no matter which side of cancer you are on.
One true thing or piece of advice is OPEN COMMUNICATION! This is definitely for both the person with cancer and those who love that person. Talk, share, don’t be afraid to yell, scream, ask why me, tell your story, if need be cry.
If you’re the caregiver – ask anyone any and all questions; seek to understand; go to Dr. Visits and ask questions there too; don’t be left out or feel that way. You are part of the journey too. Don’t forget you have and will have needs to – even different from before your world changed, and it will change. I would encourage the one with cancer to do the same. For some, knowledge is a dangerous thing. However, you may have the personality that the more you know the safer you feel and better you can handle things. Don’t be afraid to be you or admit to who you are.
“I would have denied my friends, family, and even strangers the blessing of helping me. No one needs to go through this journey alone.”
No one is ever prepared for “that” diagnosis. What me??! It was a challenging five year journey navigating Hodgkin’s Lymphoma treatments, side effects, and balancing natural holistic and traditional healing methods. I had to find my voice when others had strong opinions on what treatment protocols I “should” follow. Despite the roller coaster of emotions, there were many unexpected blessings that gave me the strength and faith to persevere. I trusted there was a greater purpose for this experience. Now I help others navigate their health as part of my health coaching role at Northern Arizona Healthcare.
One of the most important lessons I learned is to let the love and support in. I only shared my diagnosis and treatment decisions with a few people. When it became too much for me to handle on my own, I finally reached out. Local organizations such as Further Shore helped with food deliveries and the Shadow Foundation provided some financial support. Even my ex-husband started a Go Fund Campaign. I would have denied my friends, family, and even strangers the blessing of helping me. No one needs to go through this journey alone. Loved ones can feel so helpless so being specific on what you need helps them serve you and fulfills their need to be of service.
“There is so much love and beauty in our community.“
Hi There, I’m currently battling cancer- I will for the rest of my life! Chemo and surgeries, oh and I’m not old, I have a 3 year old and a 6 year old, but we are getting through it. There is so much love and beauty in our community.
“Don’t lose hope!!”
I kept looking forward to a future with family, friends and places I want to visit. A strong faith in God also helped me get through this long journey. Don’t lose hope!!
“Have fun with wigs and wear lipstick.”
I was incredibly blessed during my cancer journey by my loving and always supportive husband, my sweet kids who were teenagers at the time and my amazing parents – they were there for me in so many different ways. But it was a circle of friends in our amazing Flagstaff community who sent me cards, and texts and food for my family that made me feel incredibly loved and supported. On those really down days, reading Kris Carr – Crazy, Sexy Cancer (thank you Cory!), meditating (a new found passion of mine because of cancer) and Cheerios helped me through.
If cancer becomes a part of your world, please let people love you through it. You will want to pull back and be alone. You’ll say “okay, I’ll let you know” when people ask how they can help or “I’m okay”. Make yourself accept help or even better find a buddy who will do it for you. Liz was my ‘no going it alone buddy’ and whenever anyone asked what they could do for me or my family, Liz had me send them her way and she let them know. We need a meal for 4 delivered on Tuesday, no more chicken, clean up team this Saturday, send a happy text, cards to this address – Liz was one of my angels that God blessed me with and prayed for me when life was a bit uncertain and scary. Find your ‘no going it alone buddy’ and let them let others help love you through it all. It’s a beautiful thing.
P.S. Have fun with wigs and wear lipstick. I had 3. Long Tina Turner style, short red bob and shoulder length with amazing highlights. When I had the energy to ‘go out’ I could be ready in 5 minutes flat! Humor helps with healing. No lie.
“I didn’t want cancer to define me as a person.”
There were so many people I relied upon during my diagnosis and treatment both times. First of course my family and close friends. My medical team and even coworkers who had been through a cancer diagnosis. The feelings of fear, terror and uncertainty were all there, but I tried to stay present and grounded in what I could do for myself versus what was totally outside my control.
I didn’t want cancer to define me as a person. I tried different coping mechanisms like meditation, visual imagery, therapeutic writing, walking, etc. to see what worked for me. Some of it did and others didn’t which is okay as long as I could find some ways to help me stay calm, positive and not overwhelmed. I kept the words in mind: Believe the diagnosis but not the prognosis. That was my mantra.
“The cancer journey is not singular, you need a partner.”
STEVE PERU AND BETH OTTERSTEIN
“My body is more familiar with health than disease and it is seeking with every breath to return me to perfect health.”
CORY AND HAZEL SHEELEY
What I had to rely on during my journey was my husband, the amazing Flagstaff community and a network of friends nationally and internationally who included my name in their church prayer lists- I truly believe without all the support I wouldn’t have had the positive outcome that I did. People sent cards to me everyday in the hospital which was wonderful because outside food or flowers wasn’t allowed. I loved the handwritten sentiments, pictures from kids and wishes for health I received every day.
Another aspect that really helped me was my own spirituality and faith- I made peace with my diagnosis immediately and celebrated my life at the same time I was facing its fragility. And I wanted to return to things that I loved as soon as possible so I pictured myself running and hiking and walking in the sunshine and on our beautiful forest trails. Meditating helped me every day too- I would listen to a meditation and read one that was an “active” meditation where I would imagine breathing in light to every corner of my body and within every cell and I imagined exhaling darkness and sickness.
I also sought out “funny cancer books” because I wanted to keep my spirits up and sometimes when faced with something THAT hard you have to laugh and poke fun at it a bit- one of my favorites was “Crazy Sexy Cancer” by Kris Carr- I really liked this because even the most well intending friends and family don’t know how to treat you when you’ve been newly diagnosed and this book explores that in a humorous way.
One true thing I would tell anyone facing cancer is what became my daily mantra “my body is more familiar with health than disease and it is seeking with every breath to return me to perfect health” Remember regardless of all the bad statistics you might be hearing you’ve been healthy your whole life and your body wants that again. It also helped me to talk to people who had gone through it so I am available in a peer to peer capacity for anyone who wants that.
“Celebrate everyday joys.”
My husband Andrew was my support. He has incredible intellectual knowledge about cancer but had never had a family member with the diagnosis. I leaned on him because I could not remember things as they were happening to me. He was my everything and still is. I also leaned on the memory of my daddy who passed on the day of my third chemo treatment. I needed to get well for my mom in the memory of my daddy.
Don’t read the internet, don’t ever go to the internet with questions about cancer. Cancer is so multifaceted and there are so many different aspects to your own individual body that you can’t expect a website that doesn’t know you to give you the best council. Look for daily joy. Celebrate everything. I celebrated scrambling eggs. I celebrated dragging a heavy garden hose and keeping my garden alive. I loved that work. Celebrate everyday joys. Embrace joy. Make sure to look for the everyday joys in your life.
“Embrace life with an attitude of gratitude.”
As a caregiver for a loved one with cancer I had to lean into my faith, family and friends. I worked hard on maintaining a heart of gratitude – that wasn’t always easy in the face of cancer. I had to be open and accepting of help from others – that was really hard too, I resisted it at first because we didn’t have a way to give back at that time. It was humbling and healing at the same time.
My biggest insight from our cancer journey was to the realization that in good times and bad you have to embrace life with an attitude of gratitude – you just never know how quickly things can change.
“You will be amazed at how strong you are.”
When I was going through cancer most of my support came through my family but also from co-workers. Being an RN at the cancer center and going through treatment was a real eye opener. Some of the best support came from my soccer team who focused on the team and the game and not my cancer. When you have too many support people always asking how you’re doing, it’s really nice to have a group who sees you without cancer and that at your core, you’re still the same person. You need time away from cancer.
You must hold on to the belief that you will get through this knowing at times the path will feel unsurmountable. You will be amazed at how strong you are. You may have a few friends who are uncomfortable with your diagnosis and treatment and who you do not hear from but most will give you amazing support. Not many of us are used to accepting help, but this is the time in your life to be the receiver. Plus it makes others feel good to help take care of you! It might not change your outlook on life or make you a better person but it will give you tremendous empathy for the struggles that we all endure at times.
“People want to help – let them.”
RICH AND MARISA BOWEN
“There is a good and a bad to everything in life…even cancer.”
Hi there! My name is Becky Halstead and, boy, have I been there! I still vividly remember the first day I said the words “I have cancer”. I think I was too numb to let it really sink in. It was so hard to tell my folks, my kids….but I knew I would need my community! I never understood fully, the power of words, until all the encouragement came rolling in. I know that some folks are very private. I am not. I needed love and I knew it the second I knew I had cancer. So, by the time the second breast cancer diagnosis came along…I was mostly irritated! I knew that my medical community had me taken care of. Again, I needed love.
I was a rare lucky individual who gets two separate cases of different breast cancer. That meant two different rounds of chemo. Two different opportunities to go bald. Two different opportunities to get mastectomies!
I learned through all of it…that there is a good and a bad to everything in life…even cancer.
It isn’t in any of our scheduled plans, but it doesn’t have to be the end to everything good in life. I got all the support and words of encouragement and love that you just don’t get unless you get sick! I even got to be in a commercial….in all my bald glory.
You know… No one just walks up and tells you how much they love you when you aren’t sick.
It’s gonna be ok. You aren’t alone. Unfortunately, you are now part of the club. It isn’t the worst thing ever. We are a pretty great group of people!
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