Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Month: January 2016

Ways to Support Someone During a Serious Health Crisis

ways to support someone during a serious health crisis

Chemo Infusion Number 2

Since I began leading a very sequestered life due to chemotherapy, many of my family, friends, and neighbors have offered to help me however they can. So, I have been thinking of suggestions for ways to support someone during a serious health crisis.

As an independent, single person, sometimes I find asking for and accepting help difficult. I hate to inconvenience anyone and hesitate to ask if I think I will be imposing. And frankly, sometimes I cannot think about getting dressed, let alone what I might need. Nevertheless, I am deeply grateful to these kind folks for their offers and have taken many up on their kindness.

First, try to find out about the person’s needs and health limitations. Then, decide how you are able and willing to help . Finally, make a sincere, specific offer of assistance.

In addition to the myriad tasks my mother does for me, I have a neighbor and friends who get me groceries or other miscellany at the store; a friend who offers to go to chemo with me; a friend who brings dinner on the weeks my mom is at home and brings various items from the store; a sister who acts as my personal shopper and is not a bit bothered by becoming the annoying person in the store on her cell phone while she FaceTimes me to show me a product before making a purchase; a friend who comes over to walk with me; and another friend who calls to say, “I’m on my way to Target or Costco, can I pick up anything for you?” It is a lot less intimidating to ask someone to buy something for you when they are already at the store.

One of the casualties of health is energy. Staying on top of everyday tasks as simple as housework and meal preparation can become an unachievable goal.  If you have time and are willing, consider offering to sweep, mop, vacuum, clean the bathtub, launder clothes, or take out the trash. Maybe bringing a meal would be helpful, once you find out what dietary restrictions have to be followed. Perhaps you could take the car to get gas or offer to drive to appointments or help with chores, like banking or going to the post office. If they are in a chemo fog, or have chemo brain, they might need help organizing tasks like paying bills and keeping track of medical appointments and prescriptions.

If you are not sure what you can do, I have a few other suggestions of ways to support someone during a serious health crisis, and I encourage you to check out other websites that share creative ways to be supportive, like 20 MORE Things You Can Do When Someone You Love Has Cancer,  44 Ways to Make the Day of Someone With CancerHow to Help a Friend Going Through Treatment for Cancer, My Angry Cancer, and We Need to Stop Saying, “Let Me Know If You Need Anything” .

For me, when my friends have been specific about how they can help me, it makes it a lot easier to say, “Thanks. I would really appreciate that.” And, I do. I truly do appreciate each kind act you do for me.


Bestowing the Gift of Presence

Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I often felt inadequate and uncomfortable when I went to visit friends or relatives in the hospital. Of course I would gladly pray and offer encouraging words, but I often walked away feeling as though my visit had little impact. This feeling was not because I  believed the prayers or words of encouragement that I offered were meaningless, but because when I walked out of the hospital room I saw no visible change in the physical condition of the person. It seemed like my visit had not made a difference. I did not understand that I had been bestowing the gift of presence. In other words, I showed up and accompanied the individual in the moment of need.

Now, five months after my own diagnosis, I realize that bestowing the gift of presence, or simply showing up, is the most important thing. My admission to the hospital was very quick. I had a doctor’s appointment and a couple of hours later, I was admitted to the hospital. None of my family members had time to get to me before I had to go to the hospital, so a dear friend took me and stayed with me. She supported me by bestowing the gift of presence as I did the paperwork and tried to navigate the unfamiliar workings of a hospital.

A few hours later, my mother arrived and never left. Just a few short hours after that, the cancer diagnosis was made and I had another diagnostic test before being prepped for surgery the next morning. So later that night, my dad and three sisters all came to see me, as well as long-time family friends. My two oldest nieces came. My older sister stayed, holding my  hand, all night in the room with me the night before surgery and my youngest sister the following night.

The presence of my family and friends comforted and encouraged me as a tangible demonstration of their love. I did not have time to grow anxious about surgery or even about having cancer because I was surrounded by the people most important to me. As my hospital stay extended, other friends came to visit. They were there with me and somehow this unexpected cancer detour felt better, easier, and far less frightening.

As  I continue with chemotherapy, I have many friends and family members who are with me. They call, send texts, cards and gifts; go with me to appointments; post comments on my blog, Facebook page or Caringbridge pages, surrounding me with their prayers, love, and encouragement.

This cancer detour is a lot less lonely and frightening because of all of you. Thank you for bestowing the gift of presence. Your presence makes a world of difference to me.


Managing Chemo Side Effects

One of the most important conversations I had with the oncologist before starting chemotherapy highlighted all possible side effects and how to go about managing chemo side effects.

Nausea, cold sensitivity, infertility, hair loss, skin dryness, neuropathy, low white cell count, low platelet count, risk of infection, mouth sores, etcetera. For each chemo regimen, the list varies, but nothing on any list is very appealing.

Knowing what might lay ahead helped me feel equipped and  empowered as I started chemo. In fact after the first round of chemo, I thought I knew what to expect and talked to the oncologist about how to mitigate the most bothersome side effect that I had experienced. I felt confident that I was well prepared for dealing with this chemo thing.

Then came round two. Side effects were similar, except that the main side effect from round one was no longer an issue and the preventive measures I took actually made me miserable.

From round to round, I have found that the side effects can vary somewhat or other times widely. Sometimes one will be worse than another and just as soon as I have a plan with the oncologist to mitigate the most bothersome, another pops up and the first one doesn’t seem so bad.

Yes, it makes planning difficult. But sometimes, it is also a relief when nausea that had persisted from round to round suddenly isn’t a problem at all in one round. I still believe that being informed and prepared for chemo is preferable to going in without the information. I am grateful for sites like and the American Cancer Society that provide information about the side effects of chemotherapy for different kinds of cancer.

For me, managing chemo side effects is a little like playing a video game: Just when you think you have it mastered, you get bumped up to the next level where the environment is the same, but the variables have changed.

They say forewarned is forearmed and indeed I can say that at this point in my chemotherapy I am ready for just about anything.


An Unshakeable Legacy of Love

Two days ago my Granny Crowe would have turned 101 years old if she were still alive. Although Granny left us before we were ready, she left her family an unshakeable legacy of love.

When I was a girl, on Saturdays my family would drive to Granny and Pa’s where my sisters and I would play with our cousins. We would run around outside and do who knows what, but we had fun because we were at Granny and Pa’s.

My most precious memory of going to Granny and Pa’s was how special I felt in the middle of that grand group of cousins. Granny had a gift for making people feel like they were precious and exquisitely loved. Among the murder of Crowes, I was an insignificant pipsqueak. I was born with crooked feet, a speech impediment, and brown eyes. I was the second of four girls and there was nothing significant about me except for one thing: most of the Crowes had the most beautiful blue eyes.

But not me.  My eyes were brown. Over the years they have lightened up to a more nondescript color, but when I was a girl they were most definitely brown. Granny made sure that having those brown eyes made that crooked footed, tongue-tied little girl feel special. I believe Granny made each of us feel that loved and special, even though there was a great bunch of us.

Nothing made me know I was loved quite like being drawn to Granny’s breast in a hug so deep I could almost feel her heart beating.  Granny’s love flowed into me through her sweet embrace and touched me to my soul. I knew I was loved deeply.

Granny and Pa’s legacy lives on. Recently, one of my Crowe cousins hosted a family Christmas party. I was excited to see pictures of the event via Facebook. I marveled at the number of people attending the party and the smiles on their faces as they enjoyed being together as a family during the holidays, just like we loved going to Granny and Pa’s on Saturdays. Those pictures reminded me of how Granny left an unshakeable legacy of love in the heart of more than one little, brown-eyed girl.


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