From an article originally posted August 8, 2013…
I have had a few requests to write on the subject of how to help as well as how to avoid hurting someone facing cancer. I will be writing personally, specifically to cancer, but I feel these principals can help in many areas of life as it pertains to entering hard with another. I also intend to write about when helping hurts. That will be a difficult post to write.
I want to start by saying how very beautifully my community supported me and caring for my family. I have been so well loved. This is a post to help a community enter this kind of story. My heart longs for everyone facing what I did to be loved as well as I was. As a community and a family, we learned a few things along the way that could be helpful to you, dear reader.
I want to say how extremely vulnerable being sick and weak is for a person. Just downloading these pictures from Jen this morning has left me weepy and struggling. Every part of my being has been changed by my treatment last year, and every cell of my being wants to forget it ever happened.
First, please look at the needs of the person you are caring for specifically. Look at their heart, their life, how they interact when they are healthy. Having a few people around me helped me feel human. I couldn’t always speak, but I loved people still speaking to me. I could tell when people were looking specifically at me when they were caring for me, and when people felt like they needed to help because they should help. Does that make sense? I want to explain this with grace, but there was a difference I could discern between those who felt they needed to love me because it was their duty as a Christian and those who loved me specifically and happened to be a Christian. The difference was that I personally felt seen. As though Kara existed, not just a young mama fighting a terrible disease. My heart, my needs, my life. I wanted very much to be seen and not just my disease.
For me, as my treatment progressed the people around me grew smaller and smaller. It was hard for some who wanted very much to help, but Jason was seeing how much energy people were taking. Here’s the honest truth with what happened: I was so overly concerned that people would feel uncomfortable being with me sick, I would use every ounce of strength I had to pretend to be strong. When the person would leave, they would comment to Jason on how strong I was, but truly, I would collapse in exhaustion. Nothing remained for the kids and Jason who really needed me. So Jason became my gatekeeper. Just know, behind closed doors it is often worse than it appears. Going back to illness being vulnerable, no one wants to be ill. So even at my worst I only showed my true misery to a select few. It probably wasn’t very authentic or honest of me, but that’s what it was. I have always struggled for strength. I fought against my weakness being my strength all through treatment. I wrote on it, I knew that was what I was being shown, but I fought it desperately. I wanted to be strong, not broken, miserable, sick.
Look at the person specifically. If a clean house is important to them, love them this way. My family arranged someone to come weekly. Our Elaine and Drew were such a gift. Everyone chipped in to have them come. It created consistency, it helped my caretakers, there was no schedule of friends to organize. It really lifted a huge burden from Jason.
There are so many sites to organize meals. This was a huge help. Our church, our school, our friends all joined this site to help us get our people fed. Spread this need far and wide. Think of as many helpers as possible on this front. It is good not to burden too many with this over and over. We had so many help in this area. So many. It was beautiful. Plus they knew our food aversions. Never did a single green pepper or pea enter this home. My dear Thea was so very gracious at letting people know our tastes. Jason struggled with school lunches, so we asked for help in this area. It was huge.
It is extremely important to protect your main caregiver. I am an extrovert married to an introvert. Jason took the care of me very seriously. He struggled leaving me, but when we arranged people to be with me, he could walk away. As people cared for my guy they cared for me. I remember a dear friend coming to our house. He looked at Jason with a heavy heart and said, "I just don’t know what to say.” He went on to say how he had struggled over how to support him. What to ask, how to help. His honesty with his fear in entering our yuck was so refreshing. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we knew we wanted people to struggle through figuring it out with us.
The journey facing a disease is so unbelievably long, I just encourage you to stay the course. Maybe you weren’t super involved in the beginning, but in the end helpers are tired. Don’t be burdened with guilt and not enter. Guilt is a liar. An absolute liar. I also remember feeling so cared for when people loved on my closest friends. Helped with their kids as they cared for me, or took them to lunch and asked about their hearts. As they cared for them, they cared for me. As I said, the sicker I became the more isolated I became and more was asked of the few. Loving those few was a huge part of caring for me.
I will end with a memory about my dear friend Jen. Previous to my illness, Jen and I had done so much of our lives together. Kids, crafts, ministry, life: we processed it all together. We were each other’s person on so many levels. In a short time, God had connected our hearts in such a beautiful way. All at once, Jen found herself without her person. Cancer is a robber like that. My strength was gone, I was living in a stupor of medication and care from people she didn’t know. She was in my front line, on my closest team, she even changed a flight to be there for me on the day of my diagnosis. One day she came and sat by my bed. I could tell she was faking cheerfulness for my benefit. My heart hurt so badly for her. I remember saying something like, "Please tell me.” Jen broke down and wept. She told me what she was struggling with, and in that moment I felt like Kara. Kara—the one people share heavy hearts with, Kara—the friend, Kara—the one that Jen loved and depended on. You see, no one wants to be sick. No one. And if you have an opportunity to be real with someone struggling to live, it is a gift. I will never forget that moment. I may be cloudy on the details of what was burdening my dear friends heart, but what I’m not cloudy on was that me being in her life still mattered.
Next, I will write specifically on being a young mama facing cancer. How we deeply depended on people living with us to care for the littles in our life. Today was focused on the broader community. Thank you, dear reader, for sharing my story, entering my hard, and longing to love others in their suffering.