Hope for Healing
A cancer survivor’s book offers advice for patients’ friends and family
When Lori Hope was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002, she was understandably terrified. But the Oakland resident—and managing editor of Bay Area Business Woman—not only successfully completed her treatment, she wrote a book about how friends and family can support a loved one through a serious illness. We asked Hope about her experience writing Help Me Live: 20 Things People with Cancer Want You to Know (Ten Speed Press, $15.95).
How did you find out you had cancer?
I was very fortunate to have it discovered by mistake, after having a CAT scan of my abdomen because my doctor thought she felt something questionable during a checkup. My abdomen was clear, but the scan revealed a little nodule on the lower left lobe of my lung. My cancer was caught in stage one. My treatment was surgery—the lower left lobe of my lung was removed. I had no chemotherapy or radiation. But I need to maintain a watchful eye, because lung cancer does tend to recur.
What advice do you have for someone who has recently been diagnosed?
It’s normal to feel traumatized, to be depressed, or to feel upset. I’m not saying it’s appropriate to wallow or not seek help or support, but it is normal to feel scared, sad, and angry.
What made you write Help Me Live?
Soon after I was diagnosed, but before surgery, I had an annual family vacation planned. A friend of mine asked, “Do you think you can have a good time on your trip knowing what’s to come?” That well-intentioned question planted a seed of doubt in my already terrified soul—you are just so vulnerable when you’re scared. I thought at the time that someone should write a book about what to say and do to help people with cancer feel better. But I don’t want people to feel scared or guilty about having said the wrong thing to their loved ones. I would not have wanted to say to my friend, “That’s not a helpful question,” because I wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings. I know she meant well, although it would have been nicer to hear, “It’s so nice you will be able to get away and relax with your family.”
What do you hope families and friends of cancer patients will learn from your book?
I hope everyone realizes they have a tremendous amount of power, and that compassionate words and actions—which is what we all want to express—can not only mean the world to a cancer patient but can greatly contribute to their healing.
Also, I want everyone to know the importance of both listening to and being there for people with cancer—or for anyone who’s suffering. Tell them that you want to be there for them, and then follow through by calling or asking permission to stop by and visit. Say positive things: “I love you,” “I care so much about you,” and “I’m thinking of you.”
Even if you don’t feel comfortable enough to be physically present, you can send a card, a letter, an e-mail, a gift, and, yes, love, which some translate into prayer.
My wish is for people to stick around and support someone who needs it, and not be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. Thinking before you speak, asking permission, and putting yourself in someone else’s shoes can ensure success most of the time.
What should people avoid if their loved one has been diagnosed with cancer?
Telling horror stories about people who have not fared well in their battle against cancer can kill hope. Think before you speak. And ask permission before offering advice—it’s a universal problem, that of unsolicited advice. It’s a natural reaction to want to help somebody, but it’s appropriate to say, “This worked for me; would you like to hear about it?” Not, “You have to try this.”
How has the book been received?
I did a reading in Seattle. A woman came up afterwards. She was crying and said, “Thank you so much. My mother passed away from breast cancer in January. So many of the things we talked about while she was ill were things you talked about in the book. She would have been so glad to know that there was a book like this.” It was very moving. Also, lots of people have said to me, “This advice can be applied to a lot more than cancer!”