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Walking Through Suffering With a Loved One

Offering love and support to a loved one going through cancer is one of the best ways to show you care.
PUBLISHED April 11, 2017
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
Learning to walk through suffering with a loved one or a friend is difficult. It’s awkward, challenging and uncomfortable. Coming alongside a friend or family member during a life crisis is a wonderful way to show your love, but this may not be as easy as it sounds. Even though you aren’t the one experiencing the health crisis, it will affect you in some way, shape or form. Perhaps you’re fearful and don’t know what to do or say. You want to help but have no idea where to begin. One of the best ways to walk through suffering with someone is to just be there for them. All that’s required is to show up and be willing to share a little piece of your heart.  

A severe illness, like a diagnosis of cancer, is more challenging and difficult. If you decide to show up, you’re making a huge commitment. Chances are this won’t be a short stint, but will be a long and extenuating journey. You will be intrinsically involved. Cancer has a way of reaching out and touching even those who think they’re immune to the grasp of her tentacles. So it’s important, if you choose to be there, if you choose to show up, that you’re aware of the commitment you may be asked to accept. Are you sure you’re ready to shoulder some of the burden? Are you willing to go the extra mile? Are you willing to do what needs to be done while sacrificing your time, your comfort or your schedule? Are you willing to be wounded in the process? If you choose to get involved, there will be a cost. There’s a good possibility you might be hurt. Cancer is ugly and doesn’t mind stepping on toes. If you decide to walk with the one suffering, it’s important to be fully committed.     

Now that you’ve made the choice to be involved and walk alongside your loved one, where do you begin? Not knowing what to do or say in a crisis situation is normal, but grace and forgiveness allow us to walk through suffering together. One of the first steps of walking through suffering with someone is to physically show up. Put yourself in close proximity with your friend or loved one. They need to see you and know you care. Your presence is the key. It isn’t necessary to talk while you visit. Sometimes it’s OK to just sit with the loved one in silence. Don’t feel like you have to offer sage words of advice. Silence can speak volumes.   

But do you feel like just being there isn’t enough? Do you feel a need to do something? Your loved one may be struggling with advanced cancer or with a cancer recurrence. Doctors may be concerned the cancer isn’t responding to treatment. You may have been told that long-term remission isn’t likely. Or your loved one may have decided to discontinue treatment and live out his or her days to the fullest. Whatever the case may be, if you want to help in a tangible, practical way, don’t offer up a generic, “What can I do to help?” Your question could be too broad for the one struggling through cancer to answer. Learn to listen to your loved one. Sometimes there may be an underlying need that isn’t easily expressed. As you listen carefully, you will be able to discern the real need. As you offer help, be specific in your offer. Give details that will help the suffering one be more willing to accept your help. Family members are often good resources for ideas. It’s important to be respectful of the immediate family and their precious time with the suffering one. Don’t cross those boundaries. Offer to run errands, make meals, do housecleaning or yardwork. Offer to do the menial tasks the family doesn’t have time to handle and let them focus on the more important needs.     

During times of suffering, friendships and relationships can change. Emotional challenges may occur. It’s important to be understanding and accepting. Remember the one suffering is dealing with many things all at once. They may say or do things while in the midst of pain that they would never say or do otherwise. It helps to grow thick skin! Don’t let little hurts turn into big ones. Forgive and forget quickly. Think about how you would feel if the shoe were on the other foot. How would you react under the same type of circumstances?   

Learning to accept body changes and the physical limitations accompanying them are difficult for those who are suffering and often compound the pain. The suffering person may feel their life is totally out of control. A lack of control may cause them to feel extremely insecure. Your presence may help the suffering one feel a little more grounded and safe. It’s important to remember cancer affects not only the body, but the mind and spirit as well.   

Some days of a cancer journey will be more difficult than others. Showing a person they matter in the midst of their suffering is one of the best gifts you can give. A listening ear, a tender heart, and an abundance of compassion could be the best medicine anyone could offer.  Those simple acts of kindness say I love you and I care about you. 
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