Saturday, January 30, 2021

How to Help Someone With Cancer

 “I have terminal cancer,” the receptionist next to me said. She didn’t do the greatest job at work, and honestly I’d wondered how she still had her job. “I put in my notice because I can’t work much longer.... But I wanted you to know—you’ve always been so nice to me.”

“Why didn’t you tell me before?” I asked, feeling REALLY bad for judging her previously.

“Well, when people know I’m sick, they treat me differently—like there’s something wrong with me. And I guess there is...but you know; I don’t want to be treated that way! And then usually that’s all they want to talk about...”

“You’re really dying?” I couldn’t stop myself.

“Yeah, but I’m at peace with it. My youngest is a junior, but at least I’ve been with him this long.”

And the cavalier way she talked about death shocked me. My impulse was to tell her to have faith, that she would absolutely recover. But then I stopped myself. I suddenly understood her nearly translucently hanging skin, her tired eyes, and something that I realized must have been a wig for all of those months. 

“Can I take you out for dinner and drinks? Since you put in your notice and I wanna wish you well?”

“Ummm... Sure! All right! I can’t drink alcohol, but I would love to go out.”

So we met with one of the other receptionists at a local restaurant. I ordered a little too much to drink as I thought about this poor woman’s fate. BUT I didn’t say any of that to her. Instead we had the best time laughing and joking. At one point we laughed so hard I almost spewed my drink and had to use a napkin to wipe my chin. But none of us said a word about cancer...or death.

On her last day at work, she gave me an anchor necklace—always thinking about other people instead of herself. “This is what you’ve been to me,” she said. “You made me laugh—every single day. And you treated me like nothing was wrong. You’ve been my anchor.”

“But I didn’t know anything was wrong.....”

“You knew at the restaurant.”

She gave me such a tight hug, and I felt how tiny and frail she’d become. Tears flooded my eyes as reality hit.

Over the following weeks and months we’d talk and text, but it still came as a shock when I read her obituary. That day I donned my anchor necklace, proudly wore it to work, and thought of a woman who had changed my life.

It’s surreal now that I have stage four cancer. I think of my friend so often. How strange that even after she’s gone, now she’s somehow become an anchor for me....


  1. Nothing could be harder. I can’t imagine what you must feel. I’ll do what I can do and that is to offer a prayer for you.

  2. You have a great talent of writing deeply meaningful stories, sharing faith, kindness and love. Also, bringing tears to my eyes and sadness to my heart. You are an amazing woman.