Cancer – You’re Not Alone (Even If You Want To Be)
As a mother, a wife, a sister, or a daughter, you’re used to handling everything that comes your way. Like women everywhere, you work endlessly to keep your family safe, to shield them from harm and hurt and loss. But when you have cancer, everyone in your family is involved – whether you want them to be, or not. Learn to let go of control gracefully – and accept your family’s love.
Unless you’re totally alone in the world – no family, no friends, no work colleagues or neighbors or church community – a cancer diagnosis fairly quickly evolves into a group experience.
As a survivor, especially one going through treatment, your life changes. Like the stone dropped into a mirror-smooth pool, the ripples of change reach to the far boundaries of your world.
And those closest to you – your family – are hit the hardest.
There’s no doubt everyone who knows you feels the shock of your news. After all, cancer is the universal gorilla in the corner, as far as our health goes. No one wants to talk about it, but its presence looms large.
Your friends first say an immediate silent prayer they dodged the bullet – then ask how they can help. Your co-workers switch shifts to make sure you get to radiation every morning.
Your church adds you to the prayer chain.
But your family – ah, there’s the toughest interface. Shock, sorrow, fear, despair, pain… think of every negative emotion out there, your family no doubt feels it.
It’s inevitable – and right. Because how can you take the combination of love and responsibility that makes up a family, and expect the reaction to be otherwise?
You are loved. You are needed. Now, you’re threatened. And your family is swiftly and surely providing the bulwark of strength you need to get through cancer – the operations, the chemo, the long, slow return to health.
One of the biggest obstacles to them supporting you is, however, both simple and surprising: you.
I’ve seen way too many women, after hearing a cancer diagnosis, vow that nothing will change.
“My family needs me. I have to be strong, for their sake. Who’ll make sure the homework gets done, dinners get made, the bedtime stories read? It has to be me.”
In fact, believe it or not, it doesn’t have to be you. For this one, short period of your life, it’s OK to hand off your day-to-day responsibilities to others around you.
Let the neighbors provide casseroles and cakes. Take advantage of every local program that offers help to cancer patients – be it rides to doctors’ appointments from American Cancer Society volunteers, or a standing offer from the local college’s community service group to mow your lawn and weed your garden.
Let the other moms assume your carpool slot. Say yes when your best friend offers to do laundry. Go ahead, take the primo parking space right next to the door at work.
Do you see a common theme here? It’s called accepting help – not begrudgingly, but with grace and gratitude.
Maybe your partner doesn’t load the dishwasher exactly the way you like. And for sure your kids don’t keep their rooms clean like you would.
But repeat after me: it doesn’t matter. During this time when you’re literally fighting for your life, the smallest parts of that life – the day-to-day duties – don’t amount to the proverbial hill of beans.
Robert Frost said it best: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
Cancer is the impetus that sends you from the doctor’s office straight home – to your family.
But they don’t have to take you in – they want to. They need to. And they will.
If you do one simple thing: accept their love, and let them.