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How to Love a Family With Cancer (And How Not To)

You know those Facebook posts—the ones where your friends ask for prayers, or the ones that share bad news? I hate seeing those. I bet you do, too. But the hard part about that is that it’s super easy to click the hug reaction, post the prayer emoji, say you’re praying for someone, and move on. I’ve done this more times than I can count. I don’t think I realized the subconscious reaction I was really having, which was, “Wow, I’m sad that’s happening, but man am I glad it’s not happening to me.”

Am I right?

Today is World Cancer Day

Why do I know this? Social media told me, of course. And until now, I honestly haven’t paid that much attention to those seemingly small holidays. But to be honest, cancer isn’t small anymore. It isn’t just something my mom survived fifteen years ago and then we all moved on with our lives the end. It’s so much more than that now.

Cancer has been everything in our lives for almost six months. Cancer has been that buzz in the background, it has been that ringing in the ear, it has been that song that, no matter how hard you try, you cannot stop singing over and over again in your head.

Cancer sucks.

But cancer has given me so much.

It’s hard to feel love and gratitude at the same time one feels so much fear and shame and anger. But, that’s me. Literally every day. If you read about the burned bagel, you are able to put yourself somewhat in this place where you can understand what I’m thinking and feeling.

Cancer sucks, but it gave me the marriage I always dreamed of.

Cancer sucks, but it has shown us who our people are.

Cancer sucks, but it has shown us who our people aren’t—some who claimed to be, who we thought we could count on.

Cancer sucks, but it reminded me that the people who matter most are just the four of us who live in our home. Everyone else is everyone else.

Cancer sucks, but it taught me how to love people how they need to be loved vs. how I think they need to be loved.

We have experienced unbelievable highs and lows the last six months. Incredible gratitude has come with incredible bitterness. Selfless love has come with acknowledgement that there are people who we thought would show up for us who just aren’t going to. And that’s OK.

It’s easy to focus in life on the things that aren’t happening, or the ways that people aren’t caring for you. But cancer has taught us that we cannot ever do that again; we cannot ever allow the bitterness of being bailed on by best friends or by family to control how we feel about the absolutely incredible ways that our family of four has been loved on.

Let me share a few with you.

One of Jon’s fraternity brothers and his incredible partner in life bring us meals just about every two weeks. Sometimes they pop inside for a visit, and other times they just ring the doorbell, wave, and leave. But we feel love through their delicious meals and the ways they love us through food and other means of spreading sunshine. Andrew’s teacher brought us dinner the other night—she and Andrew planned a menu of all of Andrew’s daddy’s favorite food items—and that’s what she brought. My oldest friend sent me flowers—just to tell me she thinks I’m amazing. My best friend sent me chocolate cake because she just gets me. Packages, cards, gift cards, food, and love have all been delivered to our doorstep. People have masked up and come into the house just for a few minutes to visit and lift Jon’s spirits. I get a text every single week from a group of friends I made over a decade ago, just checking on us. Jon’s phone goes off at all hours of the day and night. People want to surprise us, send us things, and share their love for our family.

We are going through a hard thing. We can do hard things. (On repeat until this nightmare is over)

But it would be tremendously harder without the love of this village we have accumulated this last six months. So, if you are a part of it, thank you. We cannot appreciate you enough.

What this has taught me is that a simple prayer emoji is not enough.

When we are on the other side of this, and even now, as we are in it, within our capabilities, we are committed to showing up for people in better, more useful and meaningful ways. Even if it’s as small as taking your friend’s daughter a sample of your favorite tea because you know she’s going to love it, or sending flowers to a friend whose adoption fell through. Those are small things that can be done with great love—and THAT is what cancer is teaching us.

A hollow text saying “let me know if you need anything” doesn’t get the job done. You see, that places the burden back on the sick person or his family to reach out and say what they need. Our people have met our needs and never once asked us to “let them know.” Because they already know… instead of asking, they are doing.

Cancer patients and their families need actionable help. They need tangible love. They are not on vacation; they are likely feeling as though they are standing alone at the gates of hell. And each meal, each card, each text, phone call or visit, helps them to back further away from this enemy and to feel the warmth of the love of those around them instead of wondering if they are an island in the middle of the biggest storm of their lives.

On World Cancer Day, I want to challenge each of you to do this: find someone to love on today.

Whether it be taking them flowers for no reason, sending a gift card, bringing them a latte, or just offering to let them go scream their frustrations out in the middle of a field—thanks, friend, for that offer; you know who you are. Any of those seemingly small things are not small to families in crisis. They are the fibers of the life raft that keeps them afloat. Whatever way you choose to love on someone today, do it with your whole heart, and do it knowing that if someday the roles are reversed, you’ll want a village of people who know how to love on you.

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