What Encouraged Me Most During Cancer
As I reflect on my journey through cancer and the unique and trying season it was for our family, I immediately think about how much the Lord used cancer to show the depth of his love. We all know that our stories will not be "easy" or always "fun" but most of us would choose comfort and joy over challenges and pain. I am the same way. But I think what matters the most to me about our cancer story is that it wasn't just about the challenges (although there were many); it's also a story about hope and community.
I was diagnosed with cancer fast. It moved from routine blood work for pain in my hip to sitting in our doctor's office with a cancer diagnosis. I didn't even know what chemotherapy was or what treatment would look like or if I could care for our 7-month-old baby. I just knew that in the midst of my numbness it was real and it was happening and my body needed treatment.
Within hours of sharing the news with our family and friends we had received meals on our doorstep, money for unique costs that cancer would bring, and child care for my upcoming appointments. I will never be able to find the words to thank those people who simply did something. No one could take away the cancer or the pain I was in or receive the treatments for me...but people rallied and they rallied big. The support we received changed every possible component of cancer for me. Not one aspect was untouched by how well family, friends, and strangers cared for me, sending meals, gifts, cards, emails, and money. I continue to remain in awe, nearly 3 years later, of how loved we felt during that season of life. It is such a gift.
A significant part of our story is that within a few days of my diagnosis I started an online blog to keep my family (living in 3 other states) informed about the daily news from doctors and the results of tests. This removed the burden of making multiple phone calls and sending emails to keep all our loved ones in the loop. My blog ended up being much more than a place to share information and became a place of refuge. As our story grew and was shared all over the world, our mailbox was flooded with cards, gifts, checks, clothes for Ava, etc. I often thought to myself, "Would I send a gift to a friend, acquaintance, or even a stranger while they were sick? A friend, of course, but a stranger?" It was incredibly humbling and encouraging to watch people so actively care for our family during my treatment.
A woman in our community whom I had never met set up a meal website for us that provided three meals a week along with gift cards that arrived close to daily. Our home was cleaned every week and the woman that provided childcare for Ava during my treatment days also did our laundry and made sure our bed had clean sheets. In addition to the very practical and tangible ways people cared for our family, there were the emails, text messages, Facebook posts, and cards that flooded my inbox and our mailbox daily. Every day, people near and far made a choice to enter into our pain and fear and exhaustion by simply loving us. Through words, monetary gifts to lessen the financial strain, and the comfort I felt from knowing our family was not alone...well it changed my heart then and forever. I am still unsure how I will ever communicate how much all these things profoundly altered our entire cancer journey. Knowing that we were not in this alone. Knowing that my fear and sickness and pain were not just my burden to bear...it changed how I view life.
This became clear early on as I sat in chemotherapy and talked to a woman who was fighting breast cancer for the past year. She was a teacher and had to keep working to keep her insurance and not one person had brought her a meal. Not ONE! I sat quietly and listened to her share her heart and realized quickly that the outpouring we were receiving was not the norm. I decided at that moment that the gift we were given would not be kept secret. I would write on the blog and share how people were entering into our story. It was not just about the Ryder family anymore but about people all over the world seeing it is possible to make a difference, great or small, in the lives of those around you.
The greatest gift of my experience for my family was not only that I was healed and declared cancer free after my 12 treatments, but also that the natural stress and strain that will arise during any challenging time was significantly alleviated by people making an active choice every day to care for us. I want to share our story to give God the glory for each and every thing, and also to provide people with very tangible and easy ways to care for people. We so often ask ourselves, "What can I do?" During cancer I learned that no matter what, big or small, we must do something. Make an active choice to care for people in heartache and in joy whether it be with food, cards, prayer, cleaning, visits, etc. We were never meant to do life all alone. Let's enter into people's stories and experience the joy of helping others.
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