Noticing Those Around the Patient


Family and friends receive the cancer diagnosis right along with the patient. People change, relationships change and life as you know it may never be the same.

My husband works with his hands. He can build or fix just about anything. He is a brave, strong man who doesn't show his emotions often. Five years before cancer entered our world, we had moved our family across the country. Our families theme song for that move was "The Great Adventure". Cancer was not the kind of adventure we had in mind.

We had moved from North Carolina to South Dakota. We had been going on trips to the Rosebud Reservation to help out in a church there. After a few years of visiting, we decided to move there. We wanted to become a part of the community we had grown to love. At the time I received the diagnosis we lived three and a half hours away from a major medical center. Inflammatory breast cancer is rare. The National Cancer Institute says 1 to 5 percent of all breast cancer is inflammatory breast cancer. My doctor felt we needed to be closer to quality care. Our children were 17, 12 and 10 at the time of my diagnosis. None of us had any idea how deeply affected we would all be.

Two days after we received my cancer diagnosis, we were back in our home town for appointments. We had lunch with friends who were taking us to an appointment. My strong, can-fix-anything husband cried right there at the table, in the middle of a Cracker Barrel. He said, "I can't fix this, there is absolutely nothing I can do. I feel helpless."

I remember a couple of months after I started treatment, a list I made with one of our girls. It was a list of why she felt so sad. She missed her horse, her cats, her home, her friends. I couldn't tell her whether or not she would ever get to see them again. All of us were deeply affected by not only my having cancer, but the life changes caused by it. Those were turbulent times.

I had friends who could not handle the fact that I had cancer. They stayed away. Other people that I didn't want around wanted to come visit. My philosophy was, if you weren't kind to me before I got sick, don't be kind because I am sick. I need my energy to get well, not to make you feel good about yourself. That was not the expected response, but it was the best one for me and my family.

We also had amazing friends who took care of things in South Dakota. They sold things and packed up our home when we realized we wouldn't be able to return. There were other friends who made the trip to get our stuff. Later one of the men explained to me how they all stood in a circle and prayed after they loaded the trailers. His recollection of the heartfelt prayers they offered still brings tears to my eyes.

We had new friends who let us live with them while I was getting treatment. They loved on our children and were like parents to them. They were then, and still are, a true gift from God. They took us in to be part of their family. They now have children of their own and I take great joy in watching them grow up.

It is important to remember that cancer affects more than just the people who have the disease. For every difficult change there can also be positive changes in life and relationships as well. While some of the changes in my family were obvious, that is not always the case. Remember to pay attention to those around the patient. They may be hurting and struggling to adjust. A listening ear and a kind deed can do a lot in those times.

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Sarah Miretti Cassidy
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