I know that when I was diagnosed with cancer, my entire world was diagnosed at the same time. I know that my friends and family felt so helpless because they had no control over stopping the cancer, over helping me recover faster or over preventing it from ever coming back. I don't think I understood what 'helplessness' really meant until I went through a cancer diagnosis and watched so many around me watch as I experienced this awful disease without being able to stop it. I know that no one can say or do anything to relieve my grief and pain; I am the only one who can navigate myself through this experience.
Since my diagnosis, I have had friends and family who have experienced hardships in their lives and this has resulted in my own helplessness. Cancer has made me a more sympathetic person because I can safely say I know what it's like to experience hard times. Although what some of my friends and family have experienced is not cancer, I still feel like I can better understand their pain and loss because of my experience with pain and loss. I understand, on a different level, what it means to go through a tough time and no matter how many wonderful experiences you have in your life, the pain, whatever the cause, doesn't go away.
I have learned that many times, someone who is experiencing pain needs a shoulder to cry on, someone who will listen, and most importantly, he or she needs to be assured that no matter how long it's been since the pain started, you will always have them close to your heart. I sometimes feel like people look at me and think 'why does she still talk about cancer - it's over' and although treatment is over, cancer is not. It's so important that we continue to be there for the ones we love to ensure that they know we will always be there to listen no matter how trivial they feel their issues are.
Many times, I get emails or texts from friends saying 'my friend was just diagnosed with cancer - how can I help? What did someone do for you that you really appreciated?'. I have been surrounded by such incredible people and am very lucky to have my family, Keith and my in-laws, Julie, Liz and Michelle T., because they were all incredible during my diagnosis and during treatment. I honestly could write a book about the incredible things that those close to me did but I am going to focus on my mom for a little bit because she just seemed to know what to do.
From the time I was little, my mom has been my hero. I remember in kindergarten when my teacher was telling me to make a small 'k' (I did not understand that she meant lower case) and my 'k' was so small that you could barely see it, my mom sat down beside me and walked me through the difference between capital and lower case letters. I remember her explaining what it meant to get my period and without making it a scary thing, she prepared me so when it happened, I knew what to do. I remember when my mom surprised me with Backstreet Boys tickets because she knew how important they were to me. I remember her picking me up from a field party after I assured her twenty times over that yes, I had a ride home. I remember her moving me into my first apartment with two of my best friends and although her help was immense, I found her in a puddle of her own tears after I left her alone with the Dixie Chick's Travellin' Soldier. About 7 years ago my mom and I started going on a road trips for my birthday every year. I don't need anymore 'stuff', and my birthday gift is the memories with her. I still remember, in first year university, after getting off the phone with her, thinking 'Huh, she's not only my mom anymore - she's one of my best friends.' Needless to say, I have one of those moms that people wish they had.
On the Tuesday before my diagnosis, I called my mom and said 'I'm getting my results from the biopsy on Friday, I'm sure it's nothing but Keith can't get the day off work and if it is something, I don't want to be alone. I totally understand if you don't want to make the four hour drive, especially because it probably is nothing...'. But without hesitation, my mom said she'd be there. She was in the doctor's office when my GP said 'It's not good.' She witnessed my first cancer tear drop, she heard my phone calls to my dad, and my brothers and to Keith, and she was my first cancer hug.
Because she lives four hours away, it was tough, on both of us, but she was consistently 'there'. A week after my diagnosis, she transferred some money into my bank account and when I called her to ask her 'why', she said 'You're not allowed to buy groceries with this money and it can't go to bills either - this money is to buy a purse, an amazing purse, a purse that you otherwise couldn't afford - a cancer purse.' So, two of my best girlfriends came up that weekend and we went to Nine West and bought two beautiful, bright, summer, cancer purses.
A week post-surgery, when I was still bandaged up, my mom brought me a shower bench and washed my hair for the first time since surgery. She washed my back and my hair when I could barely raise my right arm. I think it was during that same trip that when I woke up in the morning, and walked out to the kitchen (all stiff and sore), she was on her hands and knees cleaning the floor. She knew it would be months before I would get around to it so she did it for me.
Because during chemo, your immune system is essentially non-existent, pedicures are not allowed because of the fear of infection. I had had maybe two pedicures in my life but last summer I felt robbed of not being able to have one. Well, my mom didn't hesitate and she soaked and scrubbed my feet and clipped and painted my toes, on a number of occasions, just so I could have painted toes like everyone else without having to exhaust myself trying to scrub and paint my own toes. Trying to fold laundry was exhausting enough, I can't imagine what a pedicure would have done to me (let's be honest, I just wouldn't have done it).
At the same time, meal preparation took a lot out of me too especially when my taste buds seemed to change by the minute during chemo. Mom would make huge quantities of spaghetti sauce that we could freeze and while she was here, she would make (or run out and get) whatever I would request. My mom found a way to focus on 'stuff' that she was able to do and that would help us out at the same time and I can't thank her enough for that.
I mean, I could continue on with the amazing things that she has done for me (She created a Team Katie cookbook with a collection of recipes from everyone from this year's Relay for Life Team Katie, the number of times that she has driven four hours for a doctor's appointment, for a chemo treatment, or to relieve Keith of his 'Katie Watch' duties is amazing) but I just wanted to mention a few things that she's done for me that any one could do for someone else going through cancer.
My mom knew what to do for me without ever being asked. She considered the things that I couldn't do for myself and did them for me. She stepped in to make my life a little easier even though she was going through my diagnosis too, just in a different way. If you have a friend who is going through cancer or even a hard time, consider what has changed in his or her life and try to fill a bit of that void. Whether it's purses, pedicures or spaghetti - I know how helpless it can feel to be a caregiver or a supporter and doing the small things are what makes the difference.
Here's to you mom, Gabrielle, for being you.