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August 19, 2017

What I Really Needed when I had Cancer.

A great many things can put you in a reflective mood.

For me, it was the day when I—a mother of three living an admittedly charmed life—was diagnosed with lung cancer. I fought the cancer then, and the two times it returned, wanting for nothing and leaning on family, friends, and a live-in nanny to help me pick up the slack.

My years of battling the illness introduced me to many incredible people who weren’t as blessed as I was. More than that, though, it redefined the way I think of healing. I met so many patients who had to miss appointments or put treatment on the back burner because they couldn’t get a sitter or didn’t have the bus or cab fare. One woman I met had to skip an appointment scheduled to treat an infection in her leg because she couldn’t afford to take the time off work.

Those faces and stories stuck with me, because they represent the sacrifices that no one should have to make. These people were trying to remedy their physical scars, but the concessions they made surely must have left marks on their souls and peace of mind.

I wanted to help those bruises heal and disappear forever, but I wasn’t sure how to start.

So I looked back on my own recovery. I remember returning home from the hospital with a front step full of spaghetti bolognese and other home cooked meals friends had left. These were such sweet gestures, but what I needed wasn’t spaghetti, it was the feeling of love and inner tranquility that came with it.

And in the chemo wards, it wasn’t just physical illness I saw, it was relationships. Family, friends, and neighbors were all desperately trying to help the person they loved in some way, but didn’t have the words to communicate. They didn’t know what to give—which was part of the problem. Traditional gifts can only go so far when trying to cure body and soul.

When I had cancer, I remember so distinctly, friends asked me 15 times a day, “What can I do for you?” I had three young children; there was so much to do for me. But that question can be paralyzing because the reality of what was important—whether the kids used good manners, whether we were sitting at dinner together, all of that—went out the window when I was forced into survival mode.

So I just said “I don’t know,” because what I needed in my life had completely changed. Physical aches were one thing, but the emotional toll they took sometimes went unattended. I knew I wanted to be someone who helped heal the latter.

Then one night, a spark of how to do just that came from the most unlikely of sources.

A tea light.

During one of my cancer stints, I’d bought my then-husband some glass blowing lessons as a birthday present. From the class, he brought back a candle holder he’d made for me. I dropped a tea light into it, and a beautiful beam of light jumped out and showered me with a feeling of peaceful warmth.

I couldn’t get over how soothing that glass and light was to me. That’s the feeling I was seeking; it was the one I wanted for the people I’d met in chemo. The ones who had to prioritize finances over their health and peace of mind.

That one glass piece sparked the idea for me to start my own company—one which now operates under a model of giving. We bake generosity into everything we do, including our pledge to donate 10 percent of our annual pre-tax revenue. If we see anyone’s basic needs unmet, we try to help them heal as best we can.

We measure our success by how many meals we give away, or by how much time we spend helping people. We also strive for unmeasurable results, like a stronger family or a more connected community. Revenue is just a tangible gift we donate that we hope leads to peace of mind, comfort, and relief during an otherwise difficult time. If one dollar of profit catalyzes just the tiniest bit of that feeling, then we’ve done what we set out to do.

I was the young mother of three small children who was dealt a potentially fatal illness three times over. Each time, I just wanted to peer into a crystal ball and get some sort of sign that it’d all be okay—not just through gifts and words, but with a feeling.

Cancer commandeered my life and forced me to take a hard look at everything I’d valued and how to make it all count. I learned that presents are nice and well-meaning, but the real value is in how those gifts benefit the recipient’s days, months, and years down the line.

When we heal the soul as diligently as the body, the mind finds solace as well.

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Author: Lee Rhodes
Image: Jess Sloss/Flickr
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Lieselle Davidson
Social Editor: Nicole Cameron

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