Working with Maureen Miles Bucci on A Snobby Girl’s Guide to Dealing with Cancer has been rewarding and educational. Learning about her experience in overcoming ovarian cancer opened my eyes, not just to the physical and emotional traumas involved, but also the harsh realities of human nature and “charity.”
Without giving away book spoilers, I’ll just note that life’s hardships often provide illumination and discernment in terms of relationships once considered genuine and true. In Snobby Girl, Maureen discusses friends who can’t find the motivation to pick up the phone and offer specific, meaningful help — like cooking a meal or cleaning the house. Yet, they’ll walk, walk, walk for the cure or click the “like” button on Facebook in support of whatever famous charity is posting. Or some will publicly ask for sympathy when they receive news of a friend’s cancer diagnosis, yet fail to provide that friend with practical assistance.
For example, Maureen notes in her book that previously innocuous tasks like slicing vegetables in preparation for a meal, or vacuuming the carpet add an element of danger for a cancer patient. Why? The chemo and radiation treatments take a toll on the body, rendering cancer fighters much more susceptible to cuts and bruises — and therefore, infections. Compounded by other symptoms like “chemo head,” fatigue, and nausea the everyday tasks we healthy people take for granted become difficult daily challenges. For many women coping with various female cancers, a friend who truly wants to help can best express that desire by cooking them a meal or two, offering to clean their house (or perhaps paying for a professional to do it), taking them out for some “retail therapy,” and/or driving them to a chemotherapy appointment when they’re feeling too exhausted to drive themselves.
And they ought to take the initiative to pick up the phone and offer specific help, versus the “Whatever I can do, just ask” platitude. Be proactive and use common sense. Life doesn’t stop for the person fighting cancer: laundry still needs to washed and folded, meals still must be cooked, pets still need to be fed and walked, lawns still need to be mowed, etc. etc. Whatever else you might do, please don’t treat your recently diagnosed friend like a leper. I was incredibly disappointed to discover there are people in the 21st century who actually believe cancer is contagious, and that many of Maureen’s so-called friends would actually move to a different pew in church (church!) to avoid sitting next to her! Unacceptable. And certainly un-Christian.
Yet when it comes to public declarations of “support,” these same folks will like, share, and post about how much they care about cancer on social media, along with photos of them walking for a cure.
I can definitely relate to Maureen’s experience, though (thanks to the grace of God) I’ve never dealt with a serious health issue. Many years ago, I worked for a non-profit in a health-related field. Among other things, my job involved organizing fundraisers and schmoozing the wealthy society ladies who donated money and time to these high-profile events. While I understand the need to raise money, it became evident to me rather quickly that these women were mostly concerned with having their pictures splashed all over the society page (with the camera capturing their best angle, of course), and attracting celebrity participants (with whom they could no doubt have a photo or two taken at the event).
Am I judging them for not caring about the patients this organization was serving? Of course not. I cannot get inside someone else’s heart and mind. But I can report that none of them to the best of my knowledge ever participated in actual programs this same charity conducted — programs involving interaction with real people suffering from the disease. I wonder now if any of these patients ever shared Maureen’s feelings.
While I applaud reputable charities for raising money for research and fully understand the need for fundraisers, my appeal here is that charity really does begin at home. By all means, walk for the cure. But if you want to take your charitable giving to the next level, why not donate your time by offering meaningful support to one woman coping with cancer (or any other debilitating disease)? For many people, it’s easy to write a check. Giving of your time and energy is a much bigger sacrifice but it also carries much more meaning for the person at the receiving end.
Call your friend and offer to do something specific and useful for her. We can’t help everyone but each of us can help someone. And that person will appreciate it more than they could ever express.
Please tune in to my interview with Maureen on Tuesday, September 30 for more.