Mike Parker: 'Cancer Conversations’ offers support for victims and family members

Mike Parker: 'Cancer Conversations’ offers support for victims and family members

In January 1998, Sandra and I sat in an examination room at the Leo Jenkins Cancer Center in Greenville and heard the dreaded diagnosis:

“She has cancer.”

Those words started the longest year of our life together, a year filled with surgeries, chemotherapy, high dose chemo with stem cell replacement, and radiation treatments. Many kind people offered their prayers and support. However, much of what she endured, we endured in solitude.

Enter Meagan Evans, a young woman I taught as a high school sophomore and a college freshman. She is now a social worker with the UNC Lenoir Cancer Center here in Kinston. She spearheads a program titled “Cancer Conversations.”

Megan Evans of UNC Lenoir

Megan Evans of UNC Lenoir

“Facing cancer during the holidays can be stressful, especially if someone you love is going through cancer treatment,” she said. 

“It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone may see this time of year as a time to celebrate. Being sensitive to the individual needs of others can avoid confusion and ensure that time spent together is meaningful and memorable.”

An important part of providing support to cancer patients comes through allowing people them to express themselves.

“However, it is often hard to see someone else struggling. Our instinct is to try to make it better. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do for another is sit with them in silence,” she explained. In my experience, one of the worst things a cancer patient and their caregivers must endure is platitudes. At times Sandra and I felt like we were living the Book of Job when some well-meaning but “miserable comforters” came our way.

“Empathy should not be confused with sympathy,” Meagan explained. “Sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow or pity for the difficulty that another may be facing. Empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another.  It requires that we understand the emotion of the other person, feel that emotion, and then respond to it.

“The ultimate goal is to be a safe place for your friend or loved one so that they can trust you with whatever they may be feeling.”

Instead of words, offer real service. Meagan offered these suggestions as examples of the ways to help others this holiday season:

  • Offer to help put up outdoor decorations

  • Deliver a ready-to-bake casserole

  • Help with shopping

  • Drop off a gift card to the grocery store

  • Show up with your vacuum cleaner

  • Take out the trash

  • Arrange for the delivery of a meal from a restaurant

  • Take their kids for an outing

  • Be the handyman

  • Help take down holiday decorations

  • Plant some spring flower bulbs in a pot

“Actions speak louder than words” is one adage that rings true. I know from first-hand experience how meaningful acts of kindness and assistance can be to those who must travel through the dark maze of treatments and emotions that comprise the cancer experience.

During this season of the year when we contemplate the greatest gift ever given – the gift of God’s love in the form of the Lord Jesus, shouldn’t our lives be marked by giving to others? What better place to start than by giving time and energy to the families we know who are going through the ordeal of cancer?

If you would like to contact Meagan to find out more about “Cancer Conversations, you can reach her by calling 252-522-7600 or emailing her at mevans@lenoir.org. She will be glad to help.

Mike Parker is a columnist for The Neuse News. You can reach him at mparker16@gmail.com.

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