In October, my friend Amy was diagnosed with cancer. I saw her just a few days after she got the results of the biopsy, and she had a look of quiet resolve on her face, as if she was calmly trying to fight through a storm.
Like many others who know her, I was stunned by the news. This amazing woman standing before me, a woman who had just run her first half marathon, a woman whose cycling and swimming I admire (and envy), a woman who takes ‘healthy eating’ to a level that I didn’t know existed, a woman who regularly practices yoga, a creative, artistic, beautiful woman who makes me feel like she’s giving me a big hug with just her smile – how could she have cancer? How was it even possible? It didn’t seem fair, as cancer never, ever does.
Despite the unfairness of the whole scenario, what has been impressive about Amy’s situation is her reaction to it. Like a warrior preparing for battle, she immediately began her research and fact-finding missions to learn as much as she could about this new enemy and different treatment options. She and her husband started gathering their community together, set up lines of communication and developed strategies for different scenarios. In a very short amount of time, they mobilized a small army of friends and loved ones in an efficient and effective manner.
With Amy’s permission, I thought I should share their process here, as I felt others might find it useful:
1) One of Amy’s brothers set up a Google group called ‘Amy Wins’ to allow for easy communication with folks who want to be ‘in the know’. They have appointed a primary spokesperson (or two) who is responsible for disseminating updates from doctor’s appointments, test results, etc. to the rest of the group. This eliminates the need for Amy to repeat herself seventeen thousand times or make time to compose and send mass emails.
2) Amy was able to clearly identify how people could specifically help her. In situations such as this, everyone wants to help in whatever way they can, but its tough to know WHAT to do, WHEN to do it, and HOW it should be done. Amy was brave enough to actually ask for help with specific tasks: i.e. Walk the dog a.m. and p.m.; Help with food prep; Clean the house; etc.
3) To make the ‘helping’ easier, a friend of Amy’s set up a ‘Care Calendar’ on-line where we can all see the ‘needs’ that exist and if anyone has signed up to help out that day. It’s a great tool that allows all of us to know what’s going on.
4) Amy makes sure to always have a pen, paper and a voice recorder handy for when she interacts with her doctors – in person or via phone. In situations such as hers, the brain is trying desperately to comprehend what is being said but emotions often befuddle the information and details get lost. This is a great solution.
5) She is writing about the experience on her blog. She is acknowledging her feelings, thinking about how her decisions will affects others, and discussing it all openly with friends and family. Often times I think we forget that even though talking about something makes it real, it always helps to take some of the fear away. The monster in the closet seems a little less scary when you talk about him during the day and discover that other people are dealing with monsters too.
Developing these strategies seems to have helped to create a sense of control in the midst of an ever-changing overwhelming experience. I admire her strength and spirit as she faces this challenge and she is preparing for the best way she knows how. It will be a test of her mental toughness and her physical abilities. It will be harder than anything else she has faced to date. She will come away from the experience a changed woman, and will discover an inner strength she didn’t know existed.
Most importantly, she will win.