10 Practical (and Creative) Ways to Support Someone with Cancer

When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, it took us completely off guard.  No shocker there.  No one can ever anticipate cancer.  My immediate reaction was to be an emotional hot mess, and scream “it’s not fair.”  But then I quickly realized that is not what my mom needed – an angry, bitter, and resentful daughter.  She needed a cheerleader.  She needed someone to lift her up when she couldn’t lift herself.  So that’s the mission I set out on along with my dad and our immediate family and friends.  She needed us and she needed God.  And she needed us to support and encourage her in practical ways.

As I searched the holy grail of Pinterest and “the Google”, I was shocked to find little to zero ways to support people battling cancer.  Sure there were a few ideas that I took off with and made my own, but I was disappointed that I couldn’t find more.  I mean, there were the “pray, support, encourage” ways that all good Southern Baptists know already.  However, I needed and wanted more, because as great (and necessary) as prayers are, sometimes we need the tangibles too – the reminders around the house when we can’t go anywhere else, things that make us smile when all we want to do is give up, and so on.  That’s when I vowed to change that once my mom was over her battle.  If I needed those ideas then surely others were desperately searching too. 

So I’ve narrowed it down to 10 practical ways that you can support someone you know with cancer.  Maybe you can’t or aren’t able to do all of these.  And that’s ok.  But I pray these will give you some guidance when you want to help and you just don’t know what to do.  And, you can know – by me sharing first hand – that each and every one is greatly appreciated by the person fighting for their life.

  1. Focus on the Positives

As if being diagnosed with cancer isn’t bad enough, the chemotherapy drugs used make cancer patients extremely sick.  Instead of focusing on what chemo would do to my mom’s body and her physical (and emotional) well-being, my dad and I were determined to make it positive. Because without these drugs, my mom would not have a fighting chance.  My advice is to be sympathetic but positive and encourage them that they will get through this and these drugs will save their life. 

I also gave both my mom and my dad a journal for them to try to write down 1,000 gifts throughout this journey.  Not only do cancer patients need to be reminded of all the blessings despite cancer, so do their caregivers. 

2.  Chemo Countdown Posters

One thing that my mom loved was being able to take her poster I made her and cross out each treatment as she finished them.  This kept her focused on the end result, as well as reminded her all that she has fought thus far.  They don’t have to be Pinterest worthy, and they don’t require a ton of money.  They just require a little imagination, some poster board, markers, and bright colors.  Get the kids involved and let them help.  And then at the end, make a “Last Chemo Day” poster to help them celebrate that phase of the battle being over.  Because it is the hardest one.

3.  Numbered Chemo Gifts

I think in some ways my mom was a little sad when chemo was over because she got a small gift at each treatment.  For every chemo treatment, I made her a numbered bag that coincided with what treatment number it was.  Inside would be something encouraging, fun, or something handmade by our son.  Gifts don’t have to be expensive, just thoughtful.  And it keeps a positive outlook on the treatments they are enduring. 

 4.  Radiation Chain

These are so easy to make, and they are just like any other countdown chain you would make to lead up to something great.  For my mom’s, I just bought different patterns of pink (for breast cancer) scrapbook paper and cut them into small strips and stapled together.  The number of chain links will correspond to the number of radiation treatments they have.  Another great addition to this would be to add a Bible verse or word of encouragement on the back of each link for them to read every day. 

5.  Get Children Involved

We did not hide what my mom was going through from our son, which is always a personal decision.  But by getting him involved, he was able to make sweet things for his nana.  We know we can’t hide all the pain in this world forever from him, but we can get him involved in being part of the encouragement and healing.  Kids love to help…so let them!  It’s such a great teaching tool also.

6.  Organize a Card Schedule

Think outside the box on this one and ask people that you may know as well as those your loved ones know to participate.  About halfway through chemo, my mom got really sick and depressed.  This is normal because the reality sets in, they are sick, and they are sick and tired of being sick.  So I simply but a request out there on my social media platforms and was overwhelmed with the response.  Some people I knew, some I didn’t, and some I do now.  They flooded my mom’s mailbox with sweet words of encouragement.  I cannot tell you how many hundreds of cards and comments she got, or how much that did for her soul.  Simple words go a long way.

7.  Be an Advocate

Sharing your loved ones stories (as long as they are in agreement) is a great way to spread hope and encouragement to others.  We never know what battles people are facing.  For others to be able to witness my mom’s strength and faith throughout her battle is something we will never know the full impact of.  God will not let any struggle go without glory coming out of it, if we let him use us.  And be their words when they don’t have the strength to share them.  Maybe they are too tired to share, or feel like they are being self-centered by sharing too much.  So share for them.  Advocate for those who need it.

8.  Organize a Meal Schedule

This is something us southerners pride ourselves on.  We can whip up some meals or have them delivered.  We love to eat and we believe in the healing power of food!  But spread it out.  Remember that the caregiver is exhausted too and doing more than their share of the duties around the house along with caring for their loved one.  Meals are a great way to help them out too.  We tend to bombard people with all kinds of casseroles and crock pot meals immediately, and forget that they still have months of need ahead of them.  Spread the love out over a long period of time.  Most cancer patients take up to a full year to endure treatments and overcome those side effects.

9.  Have Their Homes Cleaned

This is a fantastic way to help.  But do it when they are gone to treatments and not at home.  Having too many people around agitates cancer patients, and they are usually resting 24 hours a day. 

10.  Don’t Forget the Primary Caregiver

We tend to focus on the person who is sick and inadvertently forget about the primary caregiver.  This is almost always a spouse, child, or parent.  Seek ways to encourage and support them.  Don’t leave them out.  They are fighting physically and emotionally as they watch their loved one fight, and as they take on the stress of looking after them.  Offer to sit with their loved one while they go and do something small for themselves, even if it’s just talk to clear their head.  Bring them meals, help with daily house or yard work, send them cards, pray for them, and just be there to listen when they need someone to cast their burdens on.  They don’t always need advice, they just need ears to listen.

I could probably name a multitude of other ways to support someone you know with cancer.  These are the catalysts that really got my mom through her battle and I pray that our struggle will now help others. 

If you or someone you know is battling cancer, I would love to talk to you.  We also have a prayer wall on our site.  Our mission here at Our Not So Engineered Life is to let others know they are not alone, no matter what struggle they have.  We would love to pray for you, and our faithful prayer warriors would love to as well.

Learning to Live Again

Sometimes things occur that completely altar the course of our lives. A large majority of those things are good – meeting your future spouse, becoming a parent, or even a job promotion. And then there’s the things that happen that we can never be prepared for – the loss of a spouse, child, or loved one, the loss of a job, or the loss of a home. My family has certainly experienced both the ebb and flow of life’s waves. We have been blessed and humbled in both the calm waves and the tidal waves. Most recently, we’ve experienced the physical, emotional, and spiritual groans as a result of my mom’s almost year anniversary diagnosis of breast cancer. It came crashing down on us and satan attempted to use it as a device to weaken our faith. But instead, as God would have it, our faith has prospered and His glory has shone like the sun for all that have witnessed my mom’s journey this past year.

You see we all will come to a crossroad, that hard thing in our life, where we must choose which path to take. We can take the path that is easy, only later to find out it is covered with thorns and brambles. Or we can take the path that tests our endurance and is our victory to joy, hope, and peace.
— Jenny

I'm beyond grateful and humbled to share over on the Persimmon Prints blog today, as we explore what it means to LIVE all this month.  Join me as I share what that has meant for our family this year, as we honor my mom and many other women fighting breast cancer during the month of October.  (Read full article here)

I love you mama!

Divine Appointments: What I'm Learning About Being a White Christian

I walked into the room not really knowing anyone, yet dying inside just to have an adult conversation with someone.  We had moved 250 miles away from the town we had called home for 10 years.  Our son was just 2 ½ years old and well, enough said.  It was the toddler years and between that and the move I needed a “momlationship,” as my friend Melanie Dale calls it.  I needed to feel human again.  This mommy needed to connect in a bad way but I had no one to connect to.  So I did what any good Southern Baptist girl does – I found a women’s bible study group that provided child care.  I mean it had to be a win-win because they offered Jesus, coffee, and child care, right?!?

The first Tuesday morning of our study I left not really knowing anyone, nor could I even recall a name, but smiles and polite surface talk was exchanged.  It was enough and at least it offered human contact outside our new home.  I continued to attend each Tuesday and the Lord sent me a friend – a real, live one and not just one on the interwebs (or my make believe friends as my husband used to call it).  Olivia and I just seemed to hit it off and her sweet, authentic spirit just spoke to my soul. She became a dear friend to me. 

Life went on and we both stopped attending on Tuesday mornings for various reasons.  And shocker – I made lots of friends after settling into our new home town.   Olivia and I both became busy, the buzzword us Americans love to throw around.  She and I stayed in touch over the last couple of years thanks to Facebook but it just wasn’t the same. 

This past weekend I was asked to speak at a fundraising event for breast cancer – by Olivia.  You see, she and I didn’t know what would occur after those Tuesday morning bible studies.  But God did.  He knew that our worlds would collide again when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.  He knew I would become a huge cheerleader for my mom and advocate for other warrior women just like her.  It was a divine appointment two years ago that He connected me and Olivia.

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It wasn’t until I sat in the pew at First Shiloh Baptist Church this past Saturday that I realized what God had done in our lives.  I began to tear up and hold back the weeping as I saw the glory of God right before me.  I was overcome with emotion as I stood there with my head bowed.  He had taken two women who were unlikely to meet any other way and crafted a way for our pain to be used to share Jesus with others.  And the timing could not have been more perfect in my eyes on the cusp of all the racial tensions that have been resurfacing across the country.  I was the only white person in the whole congregation.  But you know what, when I looked out at the faces as I spoke, I didn’t see how we were different.  I saw how we were the same.  I saw their smiles, heard their amens, and shared in their worship.  I saw us all as Jesus sees us – HIS. 

I prayed for God to allow them to see Him through me that day and for me to be able to connect with them in a way I was unsure I could. Our worship styles are different, and quite frankly I was convicted as I stood there realizing that maybe I need to be as on fire for God as they were.  Why am I not shouting in His presence?  Why am I not calling on the Holy Spirit?  Am I afraid, or am I lukewarm?  I’m pondering many things now.  So, instead of me delivering a message to them, they ministered to me.

God created that divine appointment not because he allowed breast cancer to infiltrate both our families.  He is not a God that “allows” destruction.  But He is a God that can use what sin in this world has caused and turn it into something beautiful.  He didn’t create the friendship between Olivia and I just because I needed that at the time.  He created it because He had something to teach me about my own relationship with others and with Him.  And possibly by sharing that, others will learn as well.  He had a message to share.

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Instead of seeing how others are different from me, could it be that I should ask how I am different from them?  We as Christians even build barriers around ourselves when it comes to other cultures because we are afraid.  We are afraid of how they worship or being uncomfortable.  But maybe that’s what God wants – for us to be uncomfortable.  I believe there are still many race issues in this country.  Do I understand it?  No, nor will I pretend to.  I see people as human beings, not in terms of race.  But sadly, not everyone does.  I do believe that Christians could do so much to help bridge that gap though.  And one way I would encourage that is to get out of our comfort zones and attend services with one another.  Christ intended us to worship as one – because we are all His people – so why don’t we?  Why haven’t I?  Because we are scared and because it is different.  But I think the only way we can make progress in this country is if we begin that in the church.  It takes baby steps and I took mine this weekend. 

I can’t stop thinking about what God is teaching me right now, or wondering where He is leading me.  I do know that it won’t be my last time attending First Shiloh Baptist Church.