For the community:
1. Keep in contact one way or another.
Nothing hurts more than having a loved one diagnosed with cancer. We were very lucky with the show of support we got from our entire community. People were devastated, and quick to call, write, or email us. Many expressed their sadness and disbelief. But my husband's best friend never called or wrote. I'm sure that he just didn't know how to deal with it, but he is no longer his friend. (This was tragic in the sense that my husband NEEDED his friend more than ever.) True, it's an awkward situation, but how do you think we feel?
2. Writing is sometimes better than calling.
So many of our friends were very concerned. But at one point it became too much. I would come home from the hospital, and our phone would not stop ringing all night. Two of my friends sent me beautiful cards. Both of them stated that they wanted to give me some privacy, but that they wanted to know that they cared. This meant a lot to me. Our family has a web page. I update his page everyday, so this cuts down on the phone calls from people. I know other families record messages on their answering machines to avoid talking. Just realize that sometimes the last thing a person wants to do is talk.
3. Be careful in what you say.
I know that I am going to scare you off about calling or writing, but don't be. It's ok to say that you don't know what to say. It's ok to say that you are praying for the sick person. PLEASE don't tell us that we are special people. More than anything else, I want a normal life again. I don't want to be special. PLEASE don't tell us that we have to look at our deeds, and examine ourselves. One of the first reactions to the news was much soul searching on our parts. In a time of crises, a person needs good thoughts. This is not the time to mention our faults, or where we could improve.
4. Help in whatever way you can.
So many people offered to help. Of course there are the major concerns - other children, food, housework. Then there are the smaller things. A few friends went grocery shopping, one time because I called and asked. Sometimes you forget to pick up some things. Some of my friends would stop by on the way to the store, and ask me what I needed. Sometimes we would find bags of food (with many treats) by our front door. Another friend of mine was really good about returning the library books before they were over-due, and checking out some new ones. One kind soul sent my kids gift certificates to Toys R Us, and movie tickets for us. This was done anonymously. It was really appreciated.
5. Don't forget the other children.
My son got tons of letters and packages. Many of our friends also sent packages to my other children. This is so important. Our daughter was actually jealous of our son, because of all the nice stuff he got. They need trinkets, as well as time. Some people took my kids to special places, so that they could have a good time too.
6. Don't forget the parents, too!
The local high school girls came many time to take my kids to the park Shabbos afternoon. This gave us a need break. It's true that we need to spend time with the other kids, but we also need to recoup ourselves.
For the families:
1. Don't be scared to spread the word.
My first friend that I called (to tell of my son's illness) asked me if this was going to be public knowledge. OF COURSE! We couldn't have gotten by without the help we got. First and foremost, he was added to every prayer list we could find. (We also put this out on the Internet!) Friends were able to organize babysitting, meals, and household help. The school was notified. We were able to work out arrangements for our son to keep up with his schooling, as well as getting help for our other kids. You are going to need others now, even if you were a very independent person before. This is not a weakness on your part. Yes, it is hard to ask for help, but you are going to have to learn very quickly. One other mother that I spoke with told me that her children suffered because she tried to be a super-mom, and do it all.
2. Take care of yourself.
This is probably the hardest piece of advice for me to follow. But if you don't eat, sleep, and exercise, you will be cranky and irritable. THIS IS THE LAST THING YOU NEED! I found this out the hard way. No one can go on this way forever. If you have problems sleeping, speak to your doctor. Make sure that you eat healthy food. It's very easy to grab a bite here and there, or maybe even skip meals, but you will pay the price at some point. You and your husband also need to spend sometime together, alone. It sounds crazy, but it's true.
3. Find a good source of comfort, and cling to it.
You need a good Rav, or a person who has excellent hashgafosh. I found that sometimes people would actually tell us that we brought this on ourselves! (I am not making this up!) My Rav was able to help me to just "consider the source". No one knows why something happens. Yes, it's all for the good, but it still is a very bitter pill to swallow. You need have someone to talk to. Don't be afraid to ask for help!
4. Get as much help as you can.
Some people need more help, some can use less. But find help and use it. I found a wonderful mailing list on the Internet for parents of kids with cancer. All of these parents have been there, and understood what I was going through. Then I found Chai Lifeline. They were able to help in many ways. I eventually found Caring and Sharing, which gave me a frum outlook on this whole thing. The fact is, there is help out there. Don't try to go through this alone. Also, you shouldn't be afraid to speak with a professional. I am talking about your physician, as well as a psychiatrist/social worker/ etc. Again, this is not a sign of weakness.
5. Speak to other parents/ people.
The best thing I did was to speak to other frum parents who went through this. They offered me advice, or just listened. I found some of these other people from the various organizations listed above. Make sure you ask questions.
6. Recognize that people deal with stress differently.
My husband was able to go back to work. I guess that if proved to be an escape for him. I, on the other hand, was unable to concentrate. I took a leave of absence. I also had a quest for as much knowledge as possible. Some people like to leave everything up to the doctors. Some like to make the decisions with the doctors. But everyone is different. There is no right or wrong here. Just do what you feel is right. (OK, there is one wrong. Don't bury your head in the sand. You have to face the facts.)
7. Put your trust with the Aibishter.
(Ok, I should have put this one first!) This is easy to say, but very hard to do. You need to try and let go of your worries. After all, ultimately, Hashem has the final say. I am not saying that you don't need to daven, give tzedakah, and increase in your Mitzvos. I am saying that HASHEM CONTOLS WHAT HAPPENS. We need to learn to let go. I was a mess in the beginning, filled with fear and worry. At one point, I read something truly inspirational. Let Hashem do the worrying. Why worry about what you can't change. It's all in His hands. I found a lot of comfort in this thought. I am doing what I can to make His decree be a happy one for us, but I am not worried. (I felt a great burden lifted from my shoulders when I let Hashem worry about the outcome.)
Good luck to all of us. May Moshiach come speedily, and save Klal Yisroel the pain of needing to use my suggestions!
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