Being a Friend of a Cancer Fighter
This series will begin to tell the stories of real life everyday heroes who are friends of mine...who found the courage and learned ways to care well for me as a friend. Being a friend to someone who is diagnosed with cancer can bring up some challenges and that's ok. We need to create more conversation around this subject to help all of do a better job in this transition of a friendship.
So, let me tell you some personal hero stories from my experience. I believe these stories can shed light into ways in which we can all find ways to love our cancer fighting friends well.
Today's post is about my good friend, Tim Struck, and how he showed up in so many ways after my diagnosis. Tim and I have known each other for several years, but we first met while working at the same company. Our first day's on the job were the same day. So, we went through all the trainings and onboarding together. Right away, we realized that we had a lot in common - one of those being that we both had lived in Minnesota for several years. Tim hails from Albert Lea, MN and I have lived in and worked in Lakeville/Apple Valley, Owatonna, and Brainerd. I went to college at what used to be called Mankato State University (now Minnesota State University). Tim attended Bemidji State University. And since we're both around the same age, you can imagine the conversations that came out of that shared experience.
Soon, Tim and I began meeting every Saturday morning for coffee and have done so for several years. We attended the same church, we were in small group together, and our wives Aimee (Tim's wife) and Shara (my wife) became really close and were also in small group together. Our conversations over coffee could span the gamut on subjects like football (he's a Viking fan and I'm a Bears fan), sales, marketing, leadership, fishing, hunting, family, and past experiences in our lives.
So, when I received the cancer diagnosis, Tim was one of the first people I told outside of my family and my employer. Tim never let it get awkward from the beginning. We talked about cancer but not the majority of the time, just enough to check-in. We enjoyed the same conversations we always had. But, here's a big thing: Tim pursued me quickly and often. He was proactive in texting, calling, and meeting. So, this brings me to my first point!
Principle #1: Prior to your friend's diagnosis, you probably shot the bull about anything and everything. They still need that. They also need you to be proactive and to initiate texts, conversations, and time spent together.
This might sound easy, but let me say something: A lot of people do not do this. It becomes one sided. The fighter is the only initiator of conversations, texts, meeting.
A cancer fighter loves their friends deeply, and when things grow awkward, different, and one sided - the takeaway is that this is too much for them to handle. They don't want to burden or force this relationship. So, eventually, we stop communicating and reaching out, because what we had once was lost. This is not because they stopped loving us, or we stopped loving them, but I believe it stems from so many not having wisdom on what to say or do when a close friend is battling a life threatening disease.
Back to Tim...who, again, didn't really change anything in our relationship that we hadn't enjoyed before. We both still lament the Vikings and Bears decisions on drafts, players, coaches...and our shared enthusiasm for the drama around Aaron Rodgers, because we equally despise him. The steady consistency of our relationship meant more to me that I can put into words. I have someone who I can lean on when I need to, someone who can help me just escape and not give the disease any stage time, and someone I can be real with - just be me.
But, as God would have it, things were about to change...and change for the unexpected better. As Tim relayed it to me, one time he was thinking about this annual fishing trip he and his buddies from high school would go on for Minnesota's fishing opener. He felt God say in that moment: Invite Pete. At the time, he had no idea if my health condition and schedule with chemo every other week would even permit me to go. But, he immediately reached out. And, as God would have it - the dates fell on my off-week. What is more is that it was on the tail end of my off-week which is when I feel my best physically.
So, Tim sprung into action and spoke to his buddies who were so gracious and generous. They gave it a thumbs up. Tim let me know and we began to make plans. Tim took care of everything and his buddies also demonstrated unheard of hospitality. It was like I landed in a group that immediately felt like family.
The ability to get away from everything that was going on in my life, hit pause, and just leave it behind brought such a refreshing peace and joy to me. This brings another principle.
Principle #2: Listen for God's prompting, get creative, and do anything that can help your cancer fighting friend escape the battle, the constant reminders, and their fears.
It doesn't have to be a big thing either, whatever is in your grasp and you feel prompted to do. When God is in it, he often takes care of the details, so just ask your friend.
I've never laughed so hard. We could have never caught a fish and I would not have cared! But, Tim and I are pros, so that wasn't going to happen. I mean we're not Packers fans! (Legend has it that Packers fans used to only go catfish fishing, but they started using cheese, but they were so unsuccessful, that they just started eating cheese and skipping fishing altogether, thus cheeseheads)
Teddy, our awesome host and guide, put us onto so many hot spots that we seriously reduced the population of crappies in the lakes by 50%. We learned that if you "know a guy" you can discover a recipe for "one can beer batter" for fish fry. But the biggest lesson we learned was that community can happen anywhere you can gather with people who at the end of the day might be diverse, but truly care for one another.
But the biggest lesson we learned was that community can happen anywhere you can gather with people who at the end of the day might be diverse, but truly care for one another.
I want to end with this, because it wrecked me in such a good way! As our trip came to an end, we found ourselves sitting around a fire with Tim's good friend Gordo and his wife, JoEllen. And, out of the blue, Tim just looked at JoEllen, who I share a cancer fighter status with, and he said these words, "JoEllen, can you see why Pete is one of my dearest friends." I cannot tell you how many times, after the trip, that I returned to those words. When I've faced some dark moments - to know that you're valued and loved - that you're not discarded and being emptied of your worth - those words continue to chase the darkness of those moments away. So, let's end with this last principle.
Principle #3: Cancer fighters can often feel discarded by their employers, by their church, and unwittingly by their friends. Some of the biggest tools you have in your toolbox to love a cancer fighter well - are WORDS.
Your words matter. Words can give a cancer fighter HOPE and remind them that they matter to someone. Words chase away dark times and take away the "expiration date" feeling that a tough diagnosis brings.
I hope you're learning right along with me from these heroes. I'm inspired by Tim. This series will continue on the blog with more heroic stories of the many people who jumped in the trench with me and joined me in my fight for HOPE not dependent upon circumstances!