Living with cancer can be a real rollercoaster. Sometimes, the best way to describe it is that living with cancer can feel like waitressing!
15 years ago, I was a waitress on the top floor of a local bar and grill. I mostly served drinks, but occasionally, a large group of people would come in and place and huge order; wings and potato skins, pizzas and quesadillas, burgers and fries.
Because the kitchen was on the lower-level of the bar and grill, when my buzzer went off, telling me the order was up, I had to navigate through the crowds of people as quickly as possible to pick up the enormous tray full of food.
The tray was so big that 2 members of the kitchen staff would have to hoist the tray onto my right shoulder where it would balance between my hands.
Then, with this gigantic tray full of food, precariously perched on my shoulder, I had to weave my way back through the crowds and up the stairs to the waiting table of customers. In order to get the massive tray off of my shoulder, I had to lower my entire body down to the table level, by bending at my knees. It was really quite a feat! Often the customers were so impressed that it was reflected in my tip.
What they didn’t know was how painful it was, holding that tray on my shoulder. And, how with every step, I feared that I would drop the entire order. The fact was, if anyone had added anything to that tray once it was put on my shoulder, it would likely have thrown the whole thing off balance tumbling the plates full of food onto the floor.
That’s how it is to deal with cancer. It’s overwhelming. If something is off balance, or gets added to your load you can drop everything. It’s a horrible feeling.
When we discovered hard, swollen lymph nodes above my husband’s left collarbone in October 2012, our world turned upside down. He was soon diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. How would we tell our kids? What would happen to our family? It was overwhelming. In the years since then, I’ve learned that our family isn’t alone in this experience.
Half of all men and a third of all women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime. Many of these patients have spouses and children. All have people who care about them. At some point, everyone is directly touched by a cancer diagnosis. How do you react? What can you do to help someone you love who is going through cancer?
That’s why I do what I do. Since my husband’s diagnosis, I’ve focused my writing and speaking on helping cancer patients and their families advocate for themselves and live life to the fullest in spite of their illness.
My goal is to help people face cancer with grace.
Heather Erickson is the author of Facing Cancer as a Friend: How to Support Someone who has Cancer
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