You Are Not Alone – Your Cancer Support Network: No Job Too Big or Small

During any difficult life circumstance, going it alone is not a healthy or even practical option. For the next few weeks, my column will feature the “You Are Not Alone” series of articles focused on different life-altering events and fulfillment of needs.

During most of our life together, Gordon and I never stopped to realize how the friends we made would impact our lives in the event of a life crisis. It just isn’t something that you usually dwell on. When we needed help, we were so very blessed to have strong bonds with old friends and to form even stronger bonds with new ones. That doesn’t mean that everyone will answer the call, but be persistent enough to keep asking.

When Gordon was getting treatment in Arkansas (a long way from home), we stayed at a campground that was owned by a sympathetic family. It’s a good thing, because we encountered trouble very shortly after arriving. While Gordon was in the hospital, Little Rock had a rare snow and ice storm. The motor home was out of propane, so I was using electric heat. Unfortunately, that didn’t warm the coach in very cold weather. The propane tank to reload ours was directly across the street—so near, yet so far away. The people in the office said they would help when I got back from the hospital. That didn’t happen until the roads were a mess, so it took a long time to get back across the river to the campground.

There was more trouble ahead. When I left for the hospital that morning, the storm hadn’t started. At home they cry “snowstorm” often, and it usually never happens. I had left everything in the motor home as it was, including leaving the slide-outs out. (For those non–motor homers, these are sections of the motor home that expand out.) The slide-outs had so much snow and ice on the top of them that they wouldn’t close. You can’t move a motor home with them out, so I had to abandon hope for that day. It was a cold night; I snuggled with our cats for warmth.

The next day, angels came to my rescue. A friend worked on a ladder in the frigid temperatures to clear the ice and snow from the top of the slide-outs. He took time away from his own family during the holidays to help me. Afterwards, other campers helped with the propane and parked the motor home safely back on the site despite the ice. Without this help, it would have been a long, cold stretch, the pipes would have frozen, and Gordon might have come home from the hospital to a cold home.

Don’t let your pride keep you from asking for help. Cancer is a catastrophic upheaval to your life. When someone comes to you with an offer to help, tell that person what you need. Most people just say, “Keep us in your prayers,” when what they really mean is, “I need groceries.” If the lawn needs mowing, say so. If the kids need to get to school, say so. If you need someone to pick up milk from the store, say so. And don’t send mixed signals like: “Well, I could really use milk, but I’ll figure out a way to get it.” Accept help with gratitude.

At home, your family, friends, church, and the familiar surroundings can be comforting. Being around your pets, in your own bed—all these things can be comforting and relaxing. This serenity can be disturbed if too many well-meaning friends and family are continuously calling or coming by. Without your guidance, they will continue to come and go on their own timetable. It’s okay to set boundaries. Leave a note on the door if you don’t want visitors to use the doorbell. Disconnect the landline and use your cell phone during times when the patient is resting or not feeling well.

Encourage friends and family to send cards, notes, and e-mails to the patient—at the beginning, and then intermittently throughout the cancer struggle. Food is very helpful, as long as everyone doesn’t bring it at the same time or if it’s all desserts. This is one time in your life when you can appreciate a simple casserole. It’s so nice to come home from a day at the cancer center or hospital and just warm up some food that’s ready to eat! Remind people who want to bring food to stay away from foods with a strong smell like tuna, garlic or onions.

During our time away from home, the daily calls from Gordon’s family, friends, and coworkers kept his spirits up during many difficult days. Those calls gave me a reprieve in the attitude-building department. After a while, my lectures got stale and needed reinforcement. Attitude is everything in a cancer patient. So even if you are just reaching out and touching someone, don’t underestimate the importance of a call or e-mail.

If you know a family going through a cancer battle, reach out to them and find your role. Your support can mean so much to that family—no job too big; not job too small.

Much of the information included in this article is from:

The Saving of Gordon: Lifelines to W-I-N Against Cancer  

(available at and

Based on Joni’s experience and years of research, this inspirational and informative book is designed to give families a fighting chance in their own cancer battle.

Would you like to send something special to someone that’s going through a health-related hardship? Why not send them a Basket of Care ( These baskets are lovingly designed by a cancer survivor, and chock full of practical items that will lend comfort. Or what about a “Day at the Beach” basket for a child who is ill? A Basket of Care is just the way to say, “I care” anytime.

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