Cancer Journey/ Emotional Health/ HEALTH

Finding Balance While Dealing With Cancer

Photo-D Sharon Pruitt

Balance in my life and in the lives of others is my goal, my passion and my prayer.

How do you find balance when Mom has cancer?  Do “Balance” and “Cancer” create an oxymoron?
It all depends on your outlook and perspective.  The first thing that you need to understand is that when dealing with cancer, you are playing a completely different ‘game’ than you are during other parts of your life.
I’ll use a football analogy to illustrate my point.
Let’s use the example of a football team, who only knew the game of football and had only played on a football field.  Suddenly, some large hand comes down from the sky, picks up the team and places them on a tennis court.  With this change came no warning, no time to learn tennis, different boundary lines, rules that are unfamiliar along with complete and total shock.
This is what a cancer diagnosis is like.
Families affected by cancer are taken from the familiar and placed into a world that is completely unfamiliar.  Life very quickly goes from “What’s for dinner tonight, honey?” to “Are you feeling nauseous from the chemo, babe?”. 
Prescription bottles are sprinkled around the home now, paraphernalia from the hospital is strewn across the once-made bed, and an air of ‘fear of the unknown’ paints itself across the family member’s faces.
Reflecting back about 7 years ago, our oldest daughter was suddenly diagnosed with pericarditis, swelling of the pericardium or the lining of the heart.  This was a life-threatening condition.  She was only 16 years old at the time, as well as only one of a handful of adolescents to ever be diagnosed with this condition.  A low-grade fever accompanied mild pain when we made way to the emergency room.  Next thing we knew, she was being rushed to Cincinnati Children’s.  A world-renown thorasic team was our best hope for saving our child’s life, as she ‘flat-lined’ two times before the week was over.
It came on like a tsunami…no warning, no symptoms to speak of, nothing.  Yet, we found ourselves running back and forth between Dayton and Cincinnati, wondering if we would be able to bring our daughter home ever again, for 17 days.  It was hell…absolute hell, to be in a high-stress crisis situation for 17 days straight, with 4 other very small children (one of them nursing) at home.  It’s a time of our family’s history that none of us will ever forget.
On day 18, she came home and required home health care.  She was pale, sick, weak and required full-time attention.  This went on for a few months until she finally was able to resume some studies.  That Christmas was a very sobering one as we knew she was lucky to be alive.
Unlike cancer, our medical crisis was much more short lived.  However, like cancer, our world was turned up-side down.  We were completely unprepared to deal with what was ahead of us.  Crisis puts us on a completely different playing field, with new rules of exchange and what balance might look like.
When a family is in crisis, for whatever reason, the truly important needs become paramount.  Needs such as spiritual, emotional and physical needs must be met in a healthy way for the family to navigate it’s way through this trying time to the other side of normalcy.
There is also no doubt in my mind that without outside support from family, friends and church family, the chances of a family making it through a major crisis in life, sane, diminishes greatly.
  Overwhelming stress can fracture marriages and children, they need and deserve all the support they can get.
Based on a bit of research, I’ve compiled a list (although not exhaustive) of practical ways to minister to a family in medical crisis.
If the family has a church home, hopefully they are already aware of the crisis at hand.  Most churches have a prayer ministry who would immediately take the family’s need to prayer, on an ongoing basis.  A minister would likely visit the family, whether and home or in the hospital.  Likewise, many churches have ‘meal ministries’ that would provide meals on a regular or scheduled basis to the family.
Folks, if you don’t have a church family, you don’t know what you’re missing in life.  I don’t know where we would have been without our church family during Hailey’s health crisis.  They helped us with the other children, they visited the hospital day after day to encourage us, they brought meals, drowned us with cards in the mail and the list went on and on.
Prayer is huge during a crisis time, which goes without saying.  Prayer not only for the afflicted, but for the strength of the family. Spouses and children struggle with fear, doubt, inadequacy, financial pressures, etc. and need special care!  They need constant prayer for wisdom, strength, faith, provision and stamina.
Emotions run high during a health crisis, and can lead all of those involved into a schizophrenic state without emotional support.  I’m relating back to my own story here again, but what an enormous blessing it was to have truth worthy friends to listen….just listen!  Not solve it all for me, just listen to our crazy rantings that ultimately helped us to process through the crisis.  Never underestimate the power of a listening ear, my friends!
The spouse and children need special care.  This is the time for adult friends to come along side the patient and the spouse, together and separately, and give them the opportunity to share fears, doubts and problems.  During a health crisis, many times the ‘well spouse’ doesn’t want to burden patient with their issues and they tend to ‘stuff’.  This is very unhealthy and they need trusted friends to ‘unload’ on.
The children try to be stoic, yet need a safe adult family member or trusted friend to allow them to vent.  Children worry, more than we realize.  They are frightened, yet hesitate to ask Daddy or Mommy what’s really going on or for assurance about the future.  This is where an aunt, uncle, grandparent or trusted family friend can come along side the children.  Children can process through conversation, coloring activities, role-playing with dolls or trucks, etc.
Don’t shy away from this opportunity because you aren’t sure what to say…it’s not about you.  Just being there to listen is huge!  You don’t have to have all the answers.
Regardless of what a family is going through, life tends to march right on.  Grass and shrubs continue to grow, food continues to be eaten, errands need to be run, school related issues need attention, etc. 
This is another huge opportunity for others to come along side a family in crisis.
I have a friend who’s husband was diagnosed with ALS around the time Hailey was so sick.  It’s been about 7 years now.  He is wheelchair bound and has been for about 5 of those years.  They have 2 small children and a large older home that they renovated before the husband got sick.
Their church regularly helps them with maintenance of the home and the exterior.  They do repair work that my friend can’t do.  The last I heard, a group from their church came over weekly and just helped her to maintain the house so that she could care for her husband and children.  It’s been 7 years of this kind of love and support!  Sometimes health crises are very long term!
Families need help running errands, going to the grocery store, taking children to their practices, etc.  Our first reaction might be to pull children from all activities.  In my opinion, while some thought should be given to trimming the schedule, kids need to have something to look forward to, a diversion of sorts.  They need a little fun, to laugh and just forget the crisis for a while.  Wisdom will go a long way here.
Physical needs include food, good food.  Not only should an effort to coordinate meals be taken, but make sure the meals are healthy.  Casseroles are great, but make sure the family has access to lots of fresh fruit and vegetables.  Perhaps someone could make a big fruit basket once a week or so.  If someone near the family has a juicer, some fresh fruit or vegetable juice would greatly benefit the patient and the family.  Keeping their strength and immunity strong is imperative. 
To conclude, please don’t say to the family “If you need anything, call me.”  They won’t.  Instead say, “Hey, I’m headed to the store tomorrow, why don’t you put your list together and I’ll pick it up for you!” or “After my husband finishes the grass today, we would like to come over and help Todd with some yard work!”.
Reach out.  In our inability to cure the disease, we can lift up a family to heaven and serve them the way we were created to do.
Kelly Morris is a wife and mother to 9 children, 6 biological and 3 adopted, living in small town Ohio.  She can often be found blogging, writing, reading, cooking, gardening, digital scrapbooking and drinking good coffee.  Kelly authors “The Morristribe: Creating Balance for Busy Moms” and loves helping other moms find balance in their lives.

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  • Angie
    October 10, 2010 at 5:30 am

    Some great tips. I had a very dear friend lose their child 2 hours after he was born. I was so lost I was useless. I wish that I would have thought to do any of these things for them.

  • Peggy
    October 5, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Thank you Kelly! Can I ask you a question? How can a person help when they live across the country? We have several friends (all in NE) who are fighting different “ailments” which are severe, if not life threatening. Right now we are praying but would like to help out or encourage them in some tangable way. Do you have any recommendations? I know what you mean about about the answer being oh nothing… I do it myself.

  • Kat
    October 5, 2010 at 2:47 am

    Thank you Kelly..I am now following you…very touching story…and I can relate…I wish you well and will pray for you and your family….Kat

  • Leigh
    October 5, 2010 at 2:18 am

    Thank you for sharing practical ways we can care for one another. I’m a pediatric social worker and would love to share this with some of my families!

  • dena
    October 4, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    thanks for sharing kelly. lots of great insights and tangible ways to lighten the load for others!

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