What support is needed when faced with a life-threatening cancer journey?
There are several ways to define support during a life-threatening cancer journey:
To help someone emotionally or in a practical way
To hold something firmly or carry its weight, especially from below to stop it from falling
To agree with and encourage someone because you want them to succeed
All of these relevant when it comes to the support a person needs when they receive a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness.
When diagnosed with breast cancer as a young woman of 27 during my big OE, people thought I was crazy not to get on the first plane home. But it seemed to me that I was in the best place for medical support and the kind of support that came from friends who were close enough not to be too close.
What I needed was to be supported in my choices. My choice to stay in the UK, my decision to continue working and to keep travelling so that I had something to look forward to after all the cancer treatment had finished.
The people I surrounded myself with treated me with respect and mostly agreed with my decisions, or discussions were had and suggestions offered to find the best possible solution. It was always a conversation, never a lecture. There were no ‘should’s or ‘can’t’s. They had my best interests at heart, and I felt like I was heard. I felt empowered by my choices and supported 100% in the decisions I made.
I was treated as if well, and friends continued to include me in the fun of London life and European travel. I went out and had a good time, drank when I probably shouldn’t have, and lived the kiwi traveller’s dream that I had wished for, for years.
When I could not move from my bed, my friends were understanding, empathetic and would come and spend time with me even though I felt like pooze.
Being on the other side of the world from friends and family back home meant that contact was crucial and the effort people made was pretty outstanding. The phone calls, messages, cards, flowers and care packages were frequent, and I felt incredibly loved. That made my cancer journey easier to bear.
When friends and family came to London, they took me out and treated me to brunches, lunches and dinners, even though I doused most things I ate in tomato sauce because chemotherapy had destroyed my taste buds. I was fortunate enough not to be plagued by nausea.
Support to me is love. It’s a listening ear, a phone call, a text, a card, a care package. It’s in the small things like a smile, a hug, a laugh, or an invite even if I’m unable. It’s the silly foods you bring me to eat after treatment before I want to spew. It’s empathising that this illness is shit and recognising that I’m working hard to get through.
Support is: knowing you’ll be there, even though it’s hard for you too.
With my world turned upside down, it gave me the hope and the courage to get out of bed to face each day.
To all the people that supported me five years ago when this all kicked off thank you – my gratitude for you is massive. I feel incredibly lucky to be here to share this. Thank you for treating me like a human being and for your capacity to love and support me even though fear made it a challenge.
Jess Weller is a young breast cancer survivor, a TEDx speaker, a teacher and is currently studying to become a counsellor. Jess was diagnosed with Breast Cancer on her OE in London in June 2013, four months into a two-year working holiday visa. With no family history or genetic links to the disease, Jess believes the main contributors to her life-threatening diagnosis at such a young age is the stress and trauma she experienced throughout her life. Jess founded The WELLer Network which is an organisation dedicated to educating young New Zealanders about the prevention and awareness of cancer. She regularly speaks to young people about her cancer journey to give them the tools to protect themselves. Jess currently lives in Hamilton, New Zealand. www.thewellernetwork.com
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