Being a Support within the Cancer Community

It takes a village.

When someone you care about is dealing with cancer it is hard to know what to say or do. Cancer brings on all sorts of emotions and stressors from depression to anger, to concerns about finances. Remember, cancer goes well beyond just the patient and affects friends, family, coworkers and other acquaintances. Fact is cancer can make you feel pretty low! Although no cancer journey is the same, we can all benefit from support, and sometimes it takes a village. Here are some ways to reach out and support others fighting cancer.

Meals – One of the first things I think of when I want to help support a cancer patient or a family going through a major life event is organizing meals. It’s a nice way to make life easier when times get tough. Meals don’t have to be home-cooked; restaurant delivery, snacks and gift cards work too.

A 5k race to raise funds for Erin’s sister Amy

Financial Support – Let’s be real, cancer is expensive! Cancer means lots of medical bills and lost time at work. A quick and simple method to raise funds for someone with cancer is to use a crowd-funding platform. There are many to choose from and they only take a few minutes to set up. Crowd funding is a great way to tell your story and rally the troops. Financial support goes a long way, even if you don’t think you need it now, you might need it later and if you don’t, you can always pay it forward.

Emotional Support – People with cancer may feel stressed and overwhelmed. Asking for help is not easy for everyone, REACH OUT! Volunteer to decorate for the holidays, grocery shop, babysit kids, start a ride sharing program to get your friend/loved on to their appointments or simply schedule time to sit and visit. Believe it or not the simple gift of TIME means a whole lot!

Erin with her cancer bag and her husband

Another way to help someone cope with cancer is to offer encouragement. Encouraging a loved one to join a support group and to stay active can provide an emotional boost. Simple notes and cards of encouragement give a personal touch. Gift baskets, blankets, journals and books can bring comfort. A little joy and laughter provides a distraction from pain and anxiety about the future. As you can see, a little positivity goes a long way.

Patient Advocate – Advocacy is not for everyone but I’m sure we can all agree navigating insurance and the medical field can be a nightmare! Having someone on your side that acts as a patient advocate is essential. This person helps coordinate care, schedule appointments, speak with insurance companies, researches treatment options and can explain complex medical diagnoses. Whether this is a loved one, friend or professional with knowledge of the healthcare system having extra support helps the cancer patient feel empowered and reduces feelings of isolation.

You don’t have to have all the right answers or advice but being there and reaching out makes a difference. Everyone, especially cancer patients want to feel loved and cared for. So, no matter what you choose to give, know that your TIME is appreciated.

If you are a cancer patient or a caregiver, it’s okay to ask for help. We already know that cancer gave you super powers but believe me, having support makes those bad days manageable.

Mostly, cancer takes a village.

Erin is a Cervivor diagnosed in 2018. She was also a cancer caregiver to her sister who passed away in 2014 from neuroendocrine gastric carcinoma. Erin works in healthcare and is passionate about prevention and education. In her free time she enjoys art, running, spending time with her family and caring for her many farm animals. Learn more about Erin by reading her Cervivor story.

I Found Cervivor One Day After My Hysterectomy

On April 2, 2018 I was diagnosed with cervical cancer stage IB2. 

I remember thinking something was wrong. When I woke up in the middle of the night, I discovered I had been bleeding through the overnight protection I was using during my menstrual cycle. It was awful. I was so scared. I went through five pads in one night. I really thought I was going to bleed to death. This is when I knew something was not right. 

My last normal cervical cancer screening was in 2016 when I was living in Florida. I had missed my gynecological appointment in 2017 because I had recently moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. However, that was no excuse. I am usually very proactive with my cervical cancer screenings and I never miss an exam. 

I went to see my doctor on February 1, 2018 and directly told her about my menorrhagia. She seemed concerned. She immediately scheduled an ultrasound and a uterine biopsy. These both came back positive. I was feeling uneasy at this point. She suggested a hysterectomy. I felt extreme sadness. 

I felt alone even though my husband was right by my side praying for me, and with me. He said, if this surgery will make you feel better, let’s do it. My prayer to God was Psalm 41:3 “The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health”. 

Even after my hysterectomy was scheduled I kept wondering, ‘why me?’ But I remembered God had a plan. So I prayed, “Lord, you are the Great Physician. Please heal me.” I truly believe in the power of prayer. My faith is very important to me and it means everything. I lean on Him in times of trouble. 

March 23, 2018 was the day! The preparation went really fast. All I remember is the beach ball smell from the oxygen mask. My surgery went well according to my doctor. I woke up feeling groggy from the medicine. I went immediately into menopause. My husband stayed with me overnight at the hospital.

Amy after surgery

After I was comfortably at home, I started researching and I searched Google using “Hysterectomy Recovery Time.” Along with side effects like menopause, and a whole long list of other things, I found Cervivor. This was one day after my hysterectomy! I found women speaking openly about their journey having cervical cancer and about hysterectomies. I was quite interested.

I kept reading different survivor stories. I could see myself in all of their stories. I did not virtually meet anyone as of yet, but looked on from afar. It took me a few months before I joined my first Creating Connections gathering. I called in from my mobile phone because I wasn’t as familiar with Zoom as I am now. And I was so nervous.

I remember Tamika saying, ‘I see a phone number without a name. Does this person want to introduce themselves?’ She repeated my number out loud and I said to myself, ‘oh,  that’s me!’. I spoke up and said, “I am a survivor of cervical cancer”. I think my voice cracked. I was so nervous. I also shared that I had just had surgery, went through six rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation.

I received so much love and kindness from these ladies. They understood me. They made me feel safe sharing what I had been through. I felt I like was not alone. Many of these women had also been through hysterectomies. I had found my people. My community. 

Amy ringing the bell

What I have learned is I am able to tell my story and I am not afraid to do so. I had reached out to my local TV station during Cervical Cancer Awareness Month in January 2020. This was something totally outside of my comfort zone. A few days passed and my nerves got the best of me. It was the day of the interview.

During the interview I shared my diagnoses and the fear I had when I first heard the words ‘cervical cancer’. The reporter asked what treatments I had and I informed her that I had chemotherapy, radiation and a hysterectomy. The latter made me really sad because I always wanted to be a mother and still long for it someday. I shared that even though previous pap tests had been normal, I had missed my 2017 screening. I believe if I had gone to my appointment, all of this would have been prevented. I talked about the importance of not missing your cervical cancer screenings. I ended with telling others that ‘you are not alone’. This interview played an important part in helping me share my story on a larger platform. The support and love from other Cervivor community members has been wonderful. They are truly like my new family. 

Some of my symptoms of cervical cancer were abnormal bleeding and heavy bleeding during menstruation. Also, bad cramps and clotting. I thought this was all normal, but as it progressed, I knew this was unusual. Today, I am four years cancer free! And I am a Cervivor advocate. Cervivor helped me find my voice, and I know the importance of making my survivorship count. I want women to know cervical cancer is preventable.

Amy Knox is a wife and patient advocate based in North Carolina, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer at age 44. She is passionate about reminding women to get screened for cervical cancer. She supports Cervivor and its mission in many ways, including being a social media influencer for the organization, as well using her faith to serve as a praying partner for those seeking that level of support. Learn more about Amy, by reading her Cervivor story here.