We face loss everyday, and that's amplified this time of year--but there are things you can do to help.
Martha lives in Illinois and was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in January 2015. She has a husband and three children, ranging in age from 12 to 18, a dog and a lizard.
Many cancer patients will be lucky enough call themselves survivors. The label doesn't mean they will ultimately not die from cancer and its side effects, but it does allow for hope that someone like me has to fight for every single day. It's a battle that takes place everywhere — our minds, our souls, our bodies — for those of us who are metastatic breast cancer patients. We know the statistics and yet we continue to live with hope and love, joy and desire, and even make plans for a future that we may not see.
As someone going on two years of living with metastatic disease, I wonder if it will get easier or harder as holidays and the new year approach. Will I start to assume I will be here next year, or will I find myself holding back from real celebration out of a sense of the end approaching?
I don't know. But I do know the ways I fight to live a normal life are helped out by the efforts of the friends and family who love me. If you are such a friend to someone living with cancer, I urge you to be especially kind at the end of the year. There are things that no cancer patient needs to hear (another story about a relative who died of cancer) and things that might surprise you...
Don’t leave me out.
Yeah, I get it. A diagnosis termed “terminal” is not fun for anyone. But it's especially not fun for the person labelled with it and her immediate family. We are saddened and uncertain and scared, yet life goes on and we will be out there celebrating. Please don't decide it isn't the right time of year to wish us well. We need it badly. Even if it is hard for you to lift up the phone and dial. Even if you feel uncomfortable asking how things are going. Even if the news puts a damper on your high spirits.
You’re busy but...
Please don't tell me you're too busy to see me. Please stop by or pick up the phone. Your friend needs you.
New Year's is the worst.
Or at least it is for me. Religious holidays have a focus on family, but New Year's focus is on the future, and the future is a scary place for someone with metastatic disease. I can make all the resolutions I want about cutting out chocolate and increasing intake of turmeric, but the resolution I most want fulfilled is out of my hands. Please be extra aware that the things we usually do to celebrate New Year's have special resonance for cancer patients. We can smile with the best of them, but fear and uncertainty are often close behind.
Offer to help.
Patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments that reduce the ability to fight infections are especially vulnerable during the holiday shopping season. ‘Nuff said.
Stress is bigger and badder.
A metastatic breast cancer patient is basically someone walking around with a constant little ball of stress. Sometimes it unravels and just trails behind, but sometimes it bunches up, grows and causes trouble. If you're like most people, you know all about holiday stress. Now add on the idea that you have lost the certainty of next year. Yep. That's one of the things we face head-on at the end of the year. If you have a friend going through this, use an afternoon to do something together that can relieve anxiety. Bake some cookies, go to a movie, get a little exercise. Help her to slow down her mind and find joy in the moment.