"When We Know We Are Not Alone" by Kim Hester

Learning that a family member or friend has cancer is never welcome news. Even though it has been 16 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my heart aches when I hear that someone I care about must undergo surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation with the side effects these treatments bring.

Our family had been friends with the Edwards family for 28 years when Susie received her diagnosis. We worshipped and served together at First Baptist Nashville, and Mark and I worked closely as staff members at First Baptist and later at Celebrating Grace. So it was particularly tough for our family to learn of Susie’s cancer diagnosis since we had, “been there and done that.”

My thoughts immediately turned to my own experience as I considered ways that we could help Susie, Mark and their family navigate the journey ahead. There were the practical ways to make everyday life manageable—food, transportation to medical appointments, and keeping Susie company when Mark had to be away—and the ministry of encouragement through cards, calls, and flowers. But a couple of more specific helps for cancer patients came to mind.

One of the most dreaded side effects of chemotherapy for women is hair loss. For me, the thought of wearing a wig for 9 months to a year was overwhelming (along with the uncertainty of what my hair might look like when it did come back). My thoughtful friend Tricia offered to take me wig shopping, and the task was not nearly as intimidating with someone to offer support and give a trusted opinion. Once I learned Susie would have chemotherapy following her surgery, I knew we would plan a similar outing.

After researching options and learning there was a great wig shop just a couple of miles from Susie’s house, I picked her up for our adventure. Tricia, a First Baptist member who has known Susie longer than I, met us there and we all tried on wigs—long, short, blond, gray, straight and curly. (This being Nashville there were some great “country music star” options!) Even though Susie was feeling the fatigue of chemotherapy, she was a great sport as we laughed together and enjoyed a little silliness. Then, we turned our attention to the serious business of selecting just the right wig. Susie tried one, then another, then yet another. Back to the first one again. She decided on her new look, and we agreed her chosen style made her look 10 years younger! It was a fun day for all three of us.

In many of her Facebook posts, Susie made a list of items for which she was thankful on that particular day. She usually went on to say that having been the recipient of varying types of ministry, she would know better how to minister to others going through a similar illness. Much can be learned from those who have walked the road before us.

May 8-14, 2016, is designated National Women’s Health Week. The goal is to empower women to make their health a priority. Susie would agree—get active, eat healthy, see your doctor for preventative screenings. None of us wants to hear the words, “You have cancer.” But the journey is bearable when we know we are not alone.

Kim Hester, 
Friend and Cancer Survivor