THIS CHRISTMAS WILL BE disheartening for many of us. Our unstable economy, dwindling financial security, home foreclosures, and job losses will not pause for the holiday season. Add health issues to that equation and the result is few, if any, gifts beneath the Christmas Tree. However, there is a bright star in our dark night: community support.
We are bigger than the sum of our problems.
We belong to the community of mankind. Fellowship and help networks filled with resources and hope are available to everyone. So are sympathetic shoulders on which to cry.
As a phone counselor for the R.A. BLOCH CANCER FOUNDATION, I recently received a call from a woman I’ll name Lisa for this blog. Lisa was calling from California. It soon became apparent that this woman, who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer recurrence, needed a whole lot more than just a shoulder for support.
“I can’t start my cancer treatments!” the hysterical voice on the phone cried. “I have to pack all of my belongings because the bank is foreclosing on my home. I’m being thrown out into the street and I have nowhere to go! And, I think I’m dying.”
The sound of the phone dropped to the floor was followed by loud weeping.
My heart sank. I wanted to cry with her but that wouldn’t help either of us. So I patiently waited for Lisa to retrieve the phone and resume her woeful tale. Sometimes listening is the first step in helping.
“I’m the last of my family,” she sobbed. Her father and brother had died of cancer last year. Her mother died two years ago.
Lisa’s dog was her only companion and she was running out of dog food.
“If I start my cancer treatments, I won’t have enough energy to pack, and my things are all that I have left of my family. How can you possibly help me!” she demanded. Good question! How could I assist a woman in such a severe crisis living on the other side of the country? If stress is a killer, why is this poor woman still alive? Is it any wonder she has cancer, again?
“I don’t want to live anymore!” she moaned. “No one can help me.”
I encouraged her to take a deep breath and reassured her that there are indeed resources and contacts available to help her. While still speaking with Lisa on the phone I scanned the internet and found the toll-free numbers for the director of the Cancer Legal Resource Center in Los Angeles, and the name of an attorney who is a two-time cancer survivor and co-founder of a legal network for cancer patients.
Before giving Lisa these phone numbers, I contacted the organizations to be sure they could meet her needs.
The voice that had answered the phone said, “Have her call us. We can help.”
Two days later, I followed up with a call to Lisa, and discovered she had contacted the attorney, and Legal Resource Center. And, a community animal organization had donated food for her dog.
She sounded much better as she prepared for her treatments. We spoke of the statistically increasing chances of surviving cancer recurrence, due to new treatments, with better results, and fewer side effects.
“Call me if you need me again,” I said. “I’m here for you.”
“Will you pray for me?” she asked in a tiny voice?
“Yes, I will.” And I did. The power of prayer is incredibly strong. Ask and you will receive.
I was reluctant to let Lisa go, but realized I had to trust in God, and respect Lisa’s ability and desire to empower herself with these resources.
Unfortunately, Lisa’s story is not the exception during these trying times. Holidays do not take time off from crisis.
Fortunately, her story, has a silver lining. It is the uplifting message that community support is available during times of strife. Just ask.
As a community, we are our sister’s, daughter’s, brother’s and son’s keepers.
A few days after Lisa’s call, I overheard an interesting conversation while standing in a grocery store check-out line.
One lady with a cart full of groceries complained about her financial problems to a second woman who responded with, “If you want to change the way your problems appear, change the way you peer at them.” What a remarkable answer! It reminded me of the movie Dead Poets Society, in which the late Robin Williams played an English Professor who encouraged his students to stand on top of their desks to gain a different perspective on life.
Another helpful way to achieve this change is by not looking at your problems alone.
Like the students in the movie, sometimes we need a guide to help us process challenges differently. A second set of eyes may not be distracted by the smoldering smoke of crisis.
Getting back to holiday basics, and viewing them from a different perspective by remembering the true message and essence of Christmas may also help reduce this season’s stresses.
Christmas is a message of hope, joy, love and survival against all odds, in the form of a new beginning based on faith; a homeless infant born in a barn during extreme life threatening crisis who has only a manger for a crib and barn animals for physical warmth. His parents have little more than the clothes on their back. However, they are all blessed with the cloak of faith that hides them in plain sight, keeps them toasty on cold nights, and embraces them with credence. Their needs are met.
Christ did not receive piles of expensive gifts like X-box or the latest I-phone. He received a roof over his head, and one small heartfelt gift from each of three wise men.
In keeping with the true tradition of Christmas, my husband and I have decided not to exchange Christmas gifts this year. We have all we need, and want for nothing. Instead, we are going to give gifts to children in need within our community like the Shelter for Battered Women. Most communities have at least one, because this problem is so prevalent.
This year try something different to get back to the basics of this holiday; dare to view Christmas from a different perspective, that of the Wise Men, and discover if it is truly better to give than to receive.
The internet is rich in local and world-wide resources for anyone in crisis. And it is at your fingertips. If you know anyone in crisis, please share this article to help them during the holiday season and beyond.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
Kathleen (Kat) O’Keefe-Kanavos is a TV Producer/Host of Wicked Housewives On Cape Cod and Author/Lecturer of the award winning, International bestseller, Surviving Cancerland: Intuitive Aspects of Healing which promotes dream therapy for wellness and patient advocacy and connecting with inner guidance for success in health, wealth, and relationships.
(all photos are owned by the author)