Ministering to Cancer Patients and Survivors
By Wilma Miller, State Women’s Ministries Evangelism Coordinator, Florida, Tampa (South)
In March of 2005, I was inducted into the one sisterhood I had never wanted to be a part of, that of a cancer patient. During our 35 years of marriage, my husband and I had faced several family difficulties; however, we had other parents who had gone through the same thing with their children and with persistent prayer God wonderfully came through for us. In those times, we had others we could personally relate to in our struggles. Then along came the most difficult and traumatic event of our lives. I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.
With no direct family history, I only knew personally of a small handful of women, who had gone through this battle. I will admit to my share of tears, and having heard and read many stories of those who had not survived, there was from time to time an element of fear.
When my doctor gave me the diagnosis and treatment options, it was more than a little overwhelming. All I knew to do was to pray for God’s guidance to make the right decision. I searched all the cancer information sites my doctor had recommended. The American Cancer Society gave me a lot of excellent reading material. Suddenly, I found myself on information overload. Literally, the moment I made my decision, before even waking up my husband to tell him, I felt such a peace. I knew I would survive and thrive.
A cancer diagnosis can be a very lonely time for the one diagnosed as well as a lonely and stressful time for the entire immediate family. The one diagnosed usually experiences shock, unbelief, and often denial. Fear of the unknown looms ahead. You want to be strong for your family, but in the meantime you are fighting the battle of your life and only you will actually walk through this valley. It seems no two cancer experiences are exactly the same. You will not always be able to find someone to “compare notes with” You will wonder, “Is this pain I am experiencing normal, will the tests be painful, will I lose my hair, will my spouse still respond to me physically, will I have a recurrence?” So many questions.
The cancer patient’s family experiences fear (of losing their loved one), helplessness (standing by and watching them suffer through surgeries and/or chemotherapy and/or radiation), anger (why did this happen), then eventually, acceptance and support.
As I traveled along this road, I purposed in my heart that anything I could do to encourage another sojourner in this journey to recovery would be a commitment I would make to the Lord. God has, since that time, placed several women in my life that are going through breast cancer. By sharing my experience, and simply by my being a survivor, it encourages them to go through the sometimes very difficult surgeries, treatments and recoveries. We keep in contact through e-mails, phone calls and cards. This roller coaster ride will have highs and lows, but God is with us through it all and fellow travelers will learn His grace is sufficient.
I know I had been guilty in the past of not contacting someone, when I learned they had received a bad doctor’s report. I always felt I wouldn’t know what to say, that I’d say the wrong thing, or that they would feel I was just being nosey. Now I know better. It is much better to go ahead and make that call, send that card, just let the patient know you love them, and you are praying for them. Ask them to let you know if there is anything you can do. If they do not have a support network, such as immediate family that can help, offer to run errands, clean their house, baby sit, etc. Treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can be very debilitating and an offer of help is so appreciated. There were so many times, when I was having a rough day and in the mail that day a card would arrive or a phone call would come, or flowers would be delivered. It let me know God cared, knew where I was, and through His hands extended, in the form of friends, I would be comforted and encouraged. Some will want to discuss what is going on, some won’t. Respect their wishes. Don’t pry for information. Let them set the parameters of what they want and don’t want to share.
I received phone calls and cards from several minister’s wives who have been survivors for a number of years. Each of those calls and cards so ministered to me. I have two large hatboxes full of cards received from precious ladies in our state and those in my church family all across the U.S. If I ever have a day that I need encouragement, I just open those boxes and bask in all that love and support. God is so good.
To those going through this battle, become informed. Write down any questions you want to ask your doctors, and bring someone with you to your appointments. At times you will receive more information than you are able to fully comprehend. By bringing someone with you to your appointments, and taking notes, and afterwards being able to review what was shared, it will help you to better digest the information.
Both the patient and family members may want to take advantage of support groups that are offered. Some of these are faith based, others are offered by the facility providing treatment. You may want to try several, until you find one that fits you. Great friendships often bloom from these support groups. Some wonderful resource information has been prepared by our own Colene Mercer, founder of C.O.P.E. (Christ Offering Peace and Encouragement) Support Group.
With her permission, I have shared her Support Group Manual with a number of ladies who were interested in starting Cancer Support Groups. For more information contact Colene at email@example.com. For women, take advantage of the American Cancer Society’s “Look Good Feel Better” program. It helps you cope with the changes in your appearance, such as hair loss and skin changes. It will give you ideas from makeup application to purchasing wigs. It’s a lot of fun, and it really will make you feel better.
For those who will travel this road, and statistically one in eight women will contract breast cancer in their lifetime, do not accept your diagnosis as one of defeat. Instead, let it enable you to open your hearts and lives to new challenges and victories. Life is precious, and many take it for granted. For those of us that catch this glimpse of mortality, your life will be forever changed. Make the most of every day. Live your life to the fullest. Find a way to brighten someone else’s day every day and appreciate each new day as a Gift from our Creator.
Encourage all women over age 40 to have annual mammograms, and those with a family history of cancer to begin even earlier. This simple test may save your life.
As you and God take this journey together, one day at a time, He will give you the strength you need. Psalm 118:14 and 17 became very precious to me. “The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation . . . I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”