Recently, I returned from a trip to the Midwest to minister to a younger sister who is recovering from surgery for breast cancer. While there, I thought about how I could make her recovery easier and offer encouragement and hope. Three of my sisters and a brother had previously visited and stayed with her and her husband to offer support and to do whatever we could do to make her recovery better and easier. We have listed some recommendations that we have found helpful in helping loved ones convalesce from a long term illness or surgery.
Offer encouragement When the initial diagnosis is made, often the individual becomes anxious or depressed. At times, feelings of helplessness will become evident. For my sister, I tried to be an to encouragement and not allow her to wallow in self pity. At times, I, along with other family members had to be firm but loving in keeping our sister upbeat and optimistic when undergoing her treatments. Fortunately, my sister has a good prognosis which gave us all a sense of thankfulness for each day and an incentive for my sister to live life to its fullest. As her family, we recognize that a good mental attitude is vitally important in helping the family member accept the scope of the illness but yet not abandon the desire to press on in spite of the illness. Inspirational Christian books,music and tapes were given to my sister by her church members and colleagues as well as materials given to family members to give to her. Our family’s presence, along with church members, was a source of encouragement to my sister. On the day of her surgery,we prayed together before her surgery and she had a sense of peace as she was introduced to the surgical team before being wheeled into the operating room. Fortunately, her surgery outcome was as desired and she continues to progress with treatment to the satisfaction of her medical practitioners.
Listen to their concerns and needs A listening ear can be excellent therapy to the one who is going through the illness. My sister was always encouraged to communicate her concerns to her medical provider as well as to her family. We tried not to offer judgment on what she was saying but simply listened to her concerns and then reframed what she said to be sure we had the proper understanding. We tried to remember that we might not perceive the situation in the same manner as she but it does not discount her feelings as being real to her. We tried as family members to understand what my sister viewed as troublesome to her and avoided using such statements as “you shouldn’t feel that way” or “just get over it”. Such statements woulld have probably made my sister feel that we were negating her feelings and could possibly have shut down the lines of communication which would have been detrimental in our relationship.
Accompany individual to Medical Appointments Although my sister drives, she has a girlfriend who faithfully arranges her work schedule to transport her to and from her appointments to allow her husband to take care of other household duties that my sister is unable to do presently. During my 10 day visit, I accompanied her to one of her appointments and was introduced to the caring, compassionate staff with whom she was assigned. I was with her when her oncologist told her that she would not have to see her for six months-a moment of gladness for us all. After her appointments, we went to the gym which is a regular routine for her and the exercise helps to keep up her energy and fitness. She enjoys listening to audiobooks so I drove her to the library to check out some movies and audiobooks and we were even able to slip in a few hours of light shopping for fun and relaxation.
Meal Preparation Meal preparation can be a real hassle for those who are convalescing from an illness or treatment protocol. During my stay with my sister, I gladly prepared dinner for her and her husband nearly each day. I had a planned menu and emailed her my grocery list and she and her husband purchased the grocery items prior to my arrival. It was a time saver because i did not have to spend time shopping in unfamiliar stores. I especially enjoyed the meal preparation because they expressed enjoyment and appreciation for my culinary efforts. I loved their well-stocked walk-in pantry because everything I needed was at my fingertips. Each of my siblings who visited our sister had a hand in preparing meals for her to freeze for future use. Members of my sister’s church often brought prepared dishes which enabled her to rest and recuperate without the daily concern of daily meal preparation.
Online Website My sister subscribed to an online website specifically designated for individuals to use as a way of communicating information about their illness, treatment and progress to family, friends and colleagues. It is an effective way to inform everyone without the burdensome task of writing countless letters, emails or making phone calls which can be tedious. Interested individuals are given the opportunity to log on to the website for regular updates. If you choose to do so, you can leave messages of hope and encouragement for the individual. My sister subscribed to such a website and it has been a source of encouragement and inspiration to read the comments, well wishes and prayers of those who are thinking of her. During moments of discouragement and fatigue, she would read the online journal entries to renew her strength and determination to continue her treatment for breast cancer. As family members, we are thrilled and grateful for the support of so many individuals who love and care about her.
Encourage Individual to Rest and/or Take Naps When I visited my sister, I insisted that she lie down for at least 1-1/2 hours daily to restore her strength. She did not have to sleep but she had to remain quiet. She is not one to nap during the day and her acquiescence to napping reminded me of the reluctant preschooler who wiggles on his mat resisting nap-time. Taking time to rest rejuvenates body and mind and helps in the convalescent period. After my departure, she continues to rest after her daily exercise regimen.
Thankfully, my sister is completing the final phases of her treatment and although some days are easier than others, she is looking forward to healthier days ahead and is planning a special celebration next year to commemorate her recovery from breast cancer. Some members of our family are hoping to join her for her celebratory trip which will indeed be a time of rejoicing and thankfulness. When a loved one suffers from a long term serious illness, it affects the entire family. Our family is no exception. We look forward to the completion of her treatment and through it all we are thankful for God’s hand of mercy and healing in her life.