I Think She's Battling Cancer, And I Just Want To Help

Dear Gabby,

I'm a mom with two young kids in daycare. Recently I noticed one of the moms who also has a son in the same room (we say hi and see each other at birthday parties - but nothing more than that) appeared to perhaps be fighting breast cancer. I say this because all of the sudden I happened to notice a port on her chest, her long hair had been cut, and a breast cancer awareness sticker on her car. I know, it sounds weird, presumptuous and nosey all at once, but I couldn't help but think it was more than coincidence. Being concerned, especially knowing they don't have any family nearby, I confided in a teacher by asking if they knew anything. While she didn’t give many details she did confirm my suspicion and told me that the mom preferred to stay quiet about….but was showing a great attitude toward it all.

I’m at a loss. Struggling between really wanting to offer my help and support and respecting her wishes to keep it under wraps. The fact that she is BOTH my age and has young children the same age as mine pulls at my heartstrings and desire to just simply help. 

Would it be offensive to quietly give her a note to let her know I’m thinking of her and I’m her for anything they need? I certainly don’t want to upset her. Just want to be here for her.

Sincerely, Concerned and Torn

Dear Concerned and Torn,

If I were you, I would just get a temporary tattoo of a breast cancer ribbon and put it some place noticeable on your person. Additionally, put one of those magnets on your car. And shave your head. After these three things are accomplished, she is sure to address you and ask if you, too, are fighting the same battle. Then, boom. Ice. Broken.

Okay. That was clearly a joke. But I have totally been in your shoes. Only in reverse. I just finished treatment for Stage 2 breast cancer in June of this year and so I walked my son up to pre-school every day this year getting some looks and some clear sad faces. I never felt upset about those because I knew, just like you, people just didn't know what was okay. Then, one day, my husband said, "Hey... did you see the other cancer mom at school?" and I was pretty much like, "Ruh roh, raggy?!?!" because I hadn't a clue who he was referring to. For all I had noticed, I was the only baldy of the bunch. 

Sure enough, I then saw a mama, who, drove up with a breast cancer magnet on her SUV. She wore a breast cancer stocking cap for as many as three days straight. It was at that point that I approached her, "So, you must be going through treatment?" I inquired. "Um, no. My mom did last year. So I support the cause." End of convo. MMMM k. That was awkward. So I get where your head's at, friend. 

My advice, as a Survivor is this, do what you think you would want done for you. I think, as humans, we need to remind ourselves of this more often. I was very open about my fight. Some of my friends who have gone through treatment have only told immediate family. But none of us from Blogger to Closet Cancer mama -- not a single one of us have expressed frustration of someone reaching out to be a true friend, offer support, or bring a meal. 

I would, perhaps, start by writing her a card including your email address, or text info and let her be able to reach back out in her own time. HOWEVER, when you write her the card, please do not say, "Just let me know how I can help." or "Just let me know what you need." People in treatment or who are going through any sort of hard time or trial in their life can not for the life of themselves think of what type of thing would be helpful. Instead offer a few things: I would love to bring you a meal or sign up for your meal train, I would love to help by letting your kids come over and play, I would love to bring you a coffee during treatment and keep you company, or even, I would love to offer my Hulu password so you can use it while you are sitting in the chemo chair. 

Think of what you are comfortable offering and do that. 

The human type of kindness is the very best medicine there is.

And if this particular person isn't into that, then, well... my bad.