Fear. Anger. Sadness. Loss of faith. These are just a few of the emotions you can feel when you get the call that a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer. I've received the call three times: twice for my father and once for my aunt.
In both cases with my father's cancer diagnoses, it was terrifying. I'd always perceived him as invincible, so when I found out the first time, it seemed surreal and inconceivable. I remember distinctly the crack in his voice, his vulnerability, his own fear emanating through the phone as he shared the details.
The reality of the situation didn't truly hit me until he uttered things such as "I love you" and "I am so proud of what you've accomplished in life" as though he were preparing for the worst. Whether it was positivity or denial (or a combination of both), I stopped him and simply said, "We're not having this conversation now. You're not dying. We're going to fight this."
The Role of a Supporter
I knew at that moment that in order for us to get through this, I had to be a source of strength and hope for my family. Even though I was not the one with the disease, my life is transformed forever, and I assumed the role of the "Supporter".
Thankfully in both instances his prognosis was very positive and his treatments involved surgery only, no chemo or radiation, and this year he celebrated his five-year cancer-free milestone. To honor him and show my continued support, I got involved in various cancer awareness events, and became an active member in and advocate for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure organization, one of the boldest stands I feel that I can take against all types of cancer. And every day I am thankful
and feel blessed for his recovery and restored health.
However, my hope and faith was tested when I received "the call" for the third time...
Test of Hope and Faith
Unfortunately, on Valentine's Day last year, I suffered a broken heart when I discovered that one of the people I admired most in the world, my aunt (and godmother) had been diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer. The outlook was not good, and there were no discussions of "if" --only "when."
All of the strength, hope, and positivity I'd held throughout my father's treatments were immediately shattered. I physically felt like the wind had been knocked out of me, gasping for air as the tears began to flow uncontrollably. How could something so terrible happen to such a wonderful and selfless person, someone we all felt was an "angel sent down to us on earth"?
I felt helpless
that there was nothing I could do to help her, and angry that with all the energy I'd put into joining the fight against cancer, it was the one thing that was going to take her away from us. I wanted to give up and walk away from cancer activism.
Support for a Supporter
Out of my sorrow, I found a renewed strength, and an increased passion to end cancer. And I knew that the best way to honor my aunt and continue her altruistic legacy would be to continue helping in the fight against cancer. Instead of participating in one 3-Day for the Cure event, I now participate in two each year in memory of my aunt. It's been a year now since we lost her, and while I know that the pain may never go away, being a part of the cure and knowing that other lives will be saved has been instrumental in my own healing process and empowerment.
A cancer diagnosis doesn't impact just a single person, but everyone around him or her. As supporters, we often must save our strength and positive energy to help the cancer patient, leaving us challenged with how to handle privately in the background our own cluster of emotions in dealing with the ramifications. While our struggle is nowhere near what a patient endures, our lives, too, are changed forever, and we must find our own methods for coping and support systems for inspiration so that we can continue to be the rock our survivor loved ones need.
If you or someone you know are supporters, here are some great ways to help get through this challenging time:
What helped you get through your loved one's cancer diagnosis? Share your stories in the comments below!
- Give donations and/or volunteer your time to a cancer organization
- Connect with other supporters going through similar situations by joining support groups or online communities such as the IHadCancer social network.
- Recruit your own personal support network of friends and family that can help you with what you're going through (Remember you are NOT alone!).
- Always remember that it is okay to feel whatever emotions you are feeling, and to make sure to take time for yourself to heal. In order to be able to better care for others you must take care of yourself as well.