Ways to care for a friend going through cancer treatment

My diagnosis came in a short, fact-based phone call on June 26th, 2020, three months and change into the insanity of the pandemic.

That meant no support person coming with me to appointments and a rush to surgery scheduling as healthcare providers had to adapt based on CDC guidelines for what did and did not qualify as essential (non-elective) procedures. It also meant taking extra precautions during chemo as my immune system was already beaten down, and vaccines hadn’t yet been made available.

Despite the limitations imposed by Covid, my village – I had no idea how big it even was, or who was really in it – ministered to our family in exceptionally thoughtful ways.

Hopefully these examples will give you at least one idea you didn’t have before, so that you can demonstrate love and support to anyone in your circle who is fighting cancer.

Take the kids for a day.

My precious friend Megan just went above and beyond throughout treatment. After my first lumpectomy, she texted me and said she’d love to take the kids for a day, any day that worked for me. She said they would go to the local country club to go swimming, play back at their house, and then go grocery shopping to pick out ingredients and make dinner together for our family. She made it so easy for me to say “yes.” And I still remember the shrimp ceviche and shrimp tacos that our kiddos were so proud to bring home and share with us that evening.

Leave a front porch (or front yard) happy.

We had several examples of this, from coworkers who did a Ding Dong Ditch with overflowing baskets of goodies to cheer up the kids, to neighbors who anonymously left bags of fresh produce and pantry staples. An earlier version of me would’ve found this bothersome and insulting, as in, “Do they think we can’t afford to take care of ourselves? I don’t want all this charity.” But it’s not charity. It’s community. It’s the essence of the Bible story of the Widow’s Mite, with people who want to love on us sharing what they have and rooting for us to pull out of a scary season in our lives.

Pay for housekeeping or yard services.

As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve felt for most of my life that having a housekeeper was a waste of money. It struck me as uppity and wasteful and made me think of myself as lazy, this idea of not cleaning my own house. But as cancer happened and life in general has gotten busier, I’ve shucked that antiquated idea out the window. Before I’d seen the light (haha!), my Sunday School class took up a love offering and provided housekeeping services for three generous months. It was such a practical blessing, as the level of cleanliness recommended to protect a chemo patient is extensive. I didn’t want my husband to shoulder that stress on top of everything else he was having to do.

Surprise them with hats to protect that precious bald head.

As I’ve mentioned before, cancer can be an expensive illness. And let’s be real, does anyone honestly want to spend their hard-earned money on cancer supplies? Enter my thoughtful friend Megan again. God bless her – as we entered into the month of December, Red Devil treatments had begun to take their toll. I was too weak to do much of anything, let alone even consider attending her Christmas party. So she brought the party to me – over the course of the next 12 days (13 shown here, because my friend Jessica is so extra and spoiled me with a two-fer;).

On December 1st, she texted me to open my front door. There I found waiting a huge hat box and a brightly colored note that read: “The 12 Hats of Christmas. We love you Rebecca!” Inside was a gorgeously soft black fedora and a box of chocolate peppermint bark. A second text came in. “More is coming!”

Channeling all the Eastern European vibes in this epic hat gifted from my stylish friend Rachel. It was perfect for the February 2021 snow event that hit north Texas hard!

And goodness it did – all sorts of hat styles from a precious group of girlfriends – all of which kept me warm and toasty through what turned out to be one Snowmaggedon of a winter.

Load up a care basket with practical goodies.

I had several friends do this, and miraculously, no one doubled up on anything. My coworker (Kasey with a K) took the time to collect info from other survivors and wrote down a very detailed card about each item she’d included and why other survivors found it useful. I will keep that note forever. The basket included things like Aquaphor, Biotene and other important essentials I didn’t even know I would need.

My friends Kerri and Natalie put together a pre-mastectomy basket that included a shower lanyard, a very apropros for the season “Get Out Of Your Head” book, alcohol wipes, bandages, dressing, socks and more.

My coworkers Bridget, Erin, Matt, Shawn and Bryan spoiled me with a basket full of new reading material, lip balm, an eye mask, lotion, and an aromatherapy candle, as well as some sweet treats for when tastebuds returned.

My sweet neighbor Miss Gail also brought this, which was super useful and comforting.

We love our Miss Gail across the street. I actually didn’t need to have radiation, but thanks to her thoughtfulness, I now know to recommend this My Girls Skincare to those who do.

Share a specific prayer, or a prayer blanket, or prayer beads, or a scarf.

This one blew me away. I was too tired to answer a friend’s call the night before the mastectomy. A few minutes later, she texted this prayer:

Lord for me this would be the hardest day.

The wait is always harder than the event itself bc we are looking into the future in which you aren’t there yet.

You are right here in the present! You will be there tomorrow when tomorrow comes. You are the I AM not the I was or I am going to be.

Let Rebecca feel your presence with her today and give her the faith that it takes to hand over tomorrow to you. I pray for good rest for Rebecca today and even better rest for the team that will be working on her tomorrow.

Thank you Lord for modern medicine and that we can be confident in it to do its job! Give her family peace over the situation.

Lord I wait in anticipation to watch you show up and show off. Thank you ahead of time for the good you will bring to Rebecca and her family through this.

We can pray this confidently bc your word promises that you are working ALL things out for your glory and the GOOD of those who love you. I ask for a quick recovery.

We know you hear us bc we ask in Jesus name. Amen 🙏

Just some of the beautiful village who helped me find my brave before mastectomy surgery.

Prayer shawls and blankets are also a comforting and practical way you can show support. My friend Denise searched high and low to find me this one. The gesture meant so much!

From baseball moms to blessed friends. Love this thoughtful, spunky, no BS lady! Her family continues to be such a blessing for me and my people. There is usually lots of smart aleck laughter too – truly the best medicine!

My Momma Sue, practically another mother to me and a breast cancer survivor herself, was a tremendous resource throughout my experience. I loved opening the mail one day to find this, and I still have her note in my closet where I can see it daily. The necklace is in an open display near my jewelry. Every time I see it, I think of this remarkably strong, hilarious and not afraid to be vulnerable woman who has spoken such truth into my life since middle school.

Loving words can go a long way. I will treasure this one forever.

A dear friend of my mother’s, Zena Shulman, sent me this beautiful scarf. When I read the note that came with it,I got a little misty-eyed. To this day it remains one of my very favorite scarves – I will stand in my closet and find different outfit combos to put together just so I can wear it.

God bless the Roz Fiegelson Circle of Life Knitting Society in Birmingham, Alabama.

Use your hobbies/talents to make something unique.

Courtesy of one of North Texas’ most talented artisans.

I’d put in an order for custom corn hole boards for that Christmas, and the gentleman who made them showed up at delivery with this. I freaking love it, and I keep it in my home office just to keep my inner Sasha Fierce front and center.

Three of the ladies I heart the mostest. In fun times and awful times, we take care of each other, and I am deeply thankful for that.

My Heidi girl did two things that really stood out.

Knowing that Words of Affirmation are my love language, she reached out to mutual friends and had everyone provide either a Bible verse or words of encouragement that she collected, printed on cute mini folded cards, and then presented in a fish bowl.

It gave me such joy to open each one when I was feeling lousy, and to reflect on my relationship with the person who’s name was on the card, and the affirmative words they had chosen for me.

This girl on the left is something special.

She also showed up one day with the most gorgeous purple afghan she had made for me by hand.

It’s one of the blankets everyone in our household goes to first – warm and soft and literally filled with love. It took her weeks and I am still bowled over by the gesture.

Send a Spoonful of Comfort.

I still remember the text I got from Casey with a C (my sister in Pi Beta Phi and a longtime friend). “Girl, if I lived closer I would be scrubbing your toilets and doing your laundry and playing with your kids, but since I’m not, here is a little something to feed your family.”

I’d never heard of Spoonful of Comfort, but the carefully packed perishable box delivered to my doorstep was a nourishing surprise. Chicken noodle soup with a silver ladle to keep, rolls, and cookies. I still use that ladle, and I think of my Pi Phi angel Casey every time.

Make a donation in their honor.

Back in our hometown of Vestavia Hills, Alabama, the high school had recently hosted Rise Against Cancer, a phenomenally well-supported fundraising event. I’d once covered it back in my community newspaper editor days.

It truly touched me to the core to receive this text from my father-in-law. The family of my childhood next door neighbors, the Slays (now Wingates and Sweeneys) had donated to Rise Against Cancer and devoted a luminary in my name. That did more than they will ever know for my spirit, as around that time, I was approaching my lowest point of treatment so far.

This came at just the right time. I felt pretty low during one of the happiest times of year and my favorite season, Christmas. The donation reminded me WHO I AM, WHOSE I AM, and that every storm eventually runs out of rain.

My very thoughtful mom and dad also made a generous donation to Susan G. Komen in my honor. I had no idea they were doing it until the acknowledgement card arrived in the mail, and it touched my heart.

At that time, the Neulasta shots had put me through the ringer. Everything hurt and I could barely walk without holding onto furniture for support.

These are the times when you need to hear from your people, no matter what the gesture is – it feels less lonely and can have a powerful affect on your ability to stay in touch with that inner voice shouting “Eff you, cancer – I’m no quitter.”

Don’t be afraid to spend time with them (if they are up for it).

Cancer is isolating enough without your friends keeping their distance. Whether it’s out of fear or pity or being uncomfortable and just not knowing what the hell to say or do, it really sucks when you feel like people have kind of assumed you’re too unwell to do anything.

My fellow survivor Natalie Rapp Tuman reached out at just the right time. She recently formed a foundation, and they were having a big fundraiser in Prosper. I was SO glad she texted and invited me. I in turn invited my friend and coworker Jenn, who showed up to meet the kids and me for an awesome morning of Yomosa fun.

We did all the things – checking out the petting zoo, getting our faces painted, perusing the vendors’ wares, playing on inflatables, enjoying yoga, and sipping on mimosas for the 21 and uppers. It was the best day raising funds for Natalie’s foundation, and I met new friends in the process! (lookin’ at you, Krissy and Meagan!)

I also learned about new to me services for survivors (Salt & Light had a table there that day), and I was able to bless a newly diagnosed sister survivor with their services.

Random PS – I won the drawing for a free teeth cleaning from Windsong Dental (think it was Connor who asked me to register so he’d get free candy). It’s just too far from where we live, so if they let me donate it and there are some metroplex area survivors who would use it, please let me know!

Our hope of catching some of the Dude Perfect guys at their headquarters did not pan out, but we couldn’t not try while we were in the neighborhood!