Chances are someone you know & love will be diagnosed with cancer this year. Maybe even in the time since I've been diagnosed, you've already known of others. I have. It seems to be happening all the time. And maybe it is just because I have cancer that I've developed this sixth sense ("I see cancer people"), but I think it is more likely it is just becoming more and more prevalent.
This week a dear friend of mine found out her dad has Stage 4 brain cancer. He had a small seizure and they found a lesion on his brain. Could have been a cluster of capillaries like my own dad had 18 months ago, or it could have been a tumor. Turns out it was a pinky-nail size malignant tumor.
And just like that a man's life -- a family's whole world -- is forever altered. One minute he felt relatively healthy. The next, a doctor, a stranger, is telling him that he's sicker than he's ever been in his whole life. Suddenly chemo & radiation become the new norm. Doctor appointments fill the calendar. Emails and phone conversations center around one thing.
So my friend asked me what resources I could recommend to her right now to help her cope and handle and help. While most of my own research has been breast cancer specific, there have been a few sources that have stood out and I'd recommend to anyone in this situation.
A cookbook? Really? Really.
When I found out I had cancer, one of the first gifts I received was an amazing cookbook from my friend Megan. This book -- The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen -- became a road map for us in the weird/scary world of cancer & chemo (and now surgery and radiation). The author, Rebecca Katz, divided her book into easy to tackle sections (suck as "Anytime Foods" and "Comforting Foods"). Every recipe is designed to be healthy & cancer-fighting but also palatable to someone going through treatment (when taste buds change and stomachs are sensitive). I haven't done a lot of cooking from the book myself (because I haven't done a lot of cooking in many months period), but Pam & Joe both have. And the food cooked hasn't just been for me, but for our whole family.
This book would be a great gift for a family going through cancer, or use it yourself and make the family some great meals. Live far away? Katz's Anytime Bars are great for shipping.
#2 Don't Go Through This Alone
Even if you aren't the one with cancer, find in-person support in your area.
When someone you know has cancer, it sucks more than words can adequately express. It helps to talk to people who get what you are going through. Here in Santa Cruz we have two great groups offering support in the form of counselors, classes, support groups (for cancer patients as well as family & friends), lending libraries, yoga, insurance advice, etc. Behind Dominican Hospital there is a nondescript building in which resides the Katz Cancer Resource Center, a wonderful wealth of *free* information staffed by Dominican oncology nurses. We also have a free women-specific support center in Soquel called WomenCare.
#3 Read "The Things I Wish I Were Told When I Was Diagnosed With Cancer"
Jeff Tomczek's Huffington Post piece lays the cancer experience all out so well, so succinctly, right here.
A word to the wise: Don't read too much. Resist the urge to spend all your time Googling your loved one's cancer diagnosis. It will just scare you half to death. I know. Stay off WebMD and all the other med sites out there. If you must go online, go to the top cancer center's sites: Mayo Clinic, MD Anderson, Sloan-Kettering, etc.
Better yet: Elect a trusted friend as your "Chief Googler" and have them find and distill the information for you.
#4 Tell Your Kids What's Going On
If you're sad, they know it. You don't have to tell them everything that is going on, but you need to tell them something. Knowing that something is going on, but not know what it is incredibly stressful. Let your child in, answer their questions, and in turn, get support from them, too. I also recommend finding a book or two for your kids that will help them understand. I wrote about the best books we found for Nia for my situation here. There are numerous others out there for helping kids cope with a grandparent's cancer, too. Spend a little time on Amazon and talking to your librarian or children's bookstore buyer and you'll find some perfect books.
I'm sorry you're going through this. But you will find a way to manage it. The beginning is the worst, when you are just getting the news and hearing all the new scary words and trying to find your way in the dark. But eventually a pattern emerges and it becomes *living* with cancer. It isn't easy, but it will happen. You learn to put one foot in front of the other.
And you also find the humor and the joy because even a cancer cloud will have its silver linings.