I always assumed that cancer would catch up with me one day. After all, my mother and two of my aunts had breast cancer so I figured I must be next in line. Yet it never occurred to me that the rectal bleeding I’d been experiencing could be colon cancer. Surely the sigmoidoscopy ordered by my doctor would lead me to a quick fix and that would be that. Surprise! When I woke up after the procedure, she came to my bedside and told me I had colon cancer.
When I heard those words I went numb. The world looked as it might if viewed through a funhouse mirror. I remember someone standing nearby handing me a box of Kleenex. I didn’t need the Kleenex. I didn’t cry until many weeks later and boy did I need Kleenex then. I think my soul just closed up shop so it could absorb the gravity of my situation at its own pace, and when it was ready to let go of the emotions, it let go.
Believe me, I am not one of those survivors who talk about what a gift it was to have cancer! I certainly would have preferred to learn the lessons taught by cancer in a less painful way, but all things being equal, there were important lessons learned and I think they are clearly worth passing along. Here’s one.
I pride myself on being self-sufficient and independent. One of the most difficult aspects of being a patient was accepting help from friends. When they offered, I’d say that we didn’t need anything even though that was utterly and completely false. Husbands come in handy sometimes and mine immediately jumped on my reluctance to let folks “in.” At the same time, a dear friend and colleague set up an on-line calendar where I could post what I needed and friends could sign up to help. I could ask for someone to buy me groceries on Wednesday, or help me get the house in order on Saturday, or mow the lawn, drive me to an appointment, or just plain keep me company.
The overwhelming response to the calendar and the ensuing discussions made me realize that when people offer help, they want to help! What a revelation! Too many of us deny our friends the satisfaction and fulfillment that helping someone in need gives them. Allowing folks to help also brings them into our lives in a deeper way, resulting in even more satisfying friendships. The Jedi mind-trick is that letting people help is a gift to them, as well as a gift to you.
About Lex Gilbert
Lex Gilbert is a cancer survivor and very active volunteer with Winship Cancer Institute. She originally comes from southern California, where she ran her own marketing and promotions company serving major corporate clients from throughout the U.S. She has been a life-long volunteer and was awarded “top volunteer” by the County of San Diego for her work mentoring a child in foster care. She moved to Atlanta in 2007 and now works in the Office of Health Promotion at Emory. She was awarded the CLASS Distinguished Service Honor in the Division of Campus Life. Bruce Gilbert, her husband of 32 years, is a musician fighting Parkinson’s disease and also volunteers at Winship as a pianist.
Find a primary physician through our Emory Healthcare Network or call Health Connection at 404-778-7777 to learn more from a registered nurse.