When people say things like, “When one member of the family has cancer, the whole family has cancer,” my first instinct is to be all, “Um, no.  It was me who was forced to shave my head lest my newly crawling baby choke on my hairballs.  I was the one who had to endure the inexplicable, horrifying, gut-wrenching mix of constipation and diarrhea from chemotherapy, and it was definitely my life (and my boobs) on the chopping block,” but I know better.  I know that cancer does affect the whole family.  Boy, do I know it.

Baby isn’t ready to wean?  Cancer doesn’t care.  Your three and a half year old is putting on a special program at church for parents and wants you to be there?  Cancer doesn’t give a shit.  Between working full-time, taking care of two small children, a house (kind of), and a wife whose hormonal state that can only be described as “erratic,” your husband looks like he’s about to break?  Yeah, cancer couldn’t care less.

It really is brutal on the whole household.  Our cat ran away in the middle of my chemo.  Even she couldn’t take it.

We miss you, Ellie, the dumbest cat there ever was.
We miss you, Ellie, the sweetest and dumbest cat there ever was.

(As an aside, I just read the most brutally honest, touching piece about a husband’s experience with his wife’s cancer and ultimate death.  It’s a longer read, but well worth it.  I got lost in it the other afternoon and came out with a greater sense of humanity.)

In ways, I think that I have been able to move through this cancer business — feeling all the feels that I’m supposed to feel, dealing with what is in front of me — faster than my family because the world has been helping me.  You guys were helping.  I got cards (so many wonderful cards), gifts, visitors, open invitations to talk about my feelings.  You lovelies did a little doting on me, and it helped me get along and sort things out.

But my family… well, my family had to give up a lot and didn’t have a lot of time for sorting.  They had to focus their attention on me.  They had to pause their lives, or maybe put them into slow-mo, and put my needs ahead of their own. (Okay, maybe my baby didn’t, but believe me, when I compare those months of Alice’s life to Penny’s, it breaks my heart.)  My family had lots of feelings too — confusion, fear, anger, exhaustion, annoyance — but, while we did what we could, we just didn’t have the time or ENERGY to deal with their feelings like they deserved.  We all got swept up in cancer, and I was at the center of that.

Aside from family and friends, there are a lot of resources out there for cancer patients and survivors.  I am currently in a sort of young woman’s cancer support group, and I can’t tell you how helpful this has been for me.  It’s the whole “me too” factor.

The last time the group met, we were talking about the merits of different types of reconstruction (because I’m now entertaining the idea), and one of my friends (who has an implant) was all, “Here, feel mine” so I giggled a little and then I felt her up.

It just felt right, you know?

Like, her boob.  It felt pretty good.

Well, that and the connection I feel to these other young women who have gone through the same things as me.

Although I have only met up with them a handful (See what I did there?) of times, I feel like they understand me in ways that no one else in my life can.  In those few meetings, we’ve talked about things I’ve only thought about blogging about.  Things my other friends can listen to but just don’t quite understand.  (One day I’ll tell you about the kind of funny, kind of heartbreaking quiet confusion that ensued upon my husband’s and my first ‘meeting’ in the bedroom after my mastectomy.)

But, although they have had cancer too, in the way that the whole family does, there aren’t quite as many resources out there for the families of cancer patients.

That is why when the people at Angel on My Shoulder, a non-profit organization, got a hold of me recently and asked if I would help them spread the word about their (amazing) programs, I was all, “Yeah, you had me at hello, guys.”

Because as soon as I read about what they are doing — bringing relief to family members and caregivers dealing with the challenges of their loved one’s disease FOR FREE — I knew that I wanted to help them get the word out about their camps.  Because free relief, guys.

So basically, they offer five different weekend camps for kids whose lives have been affected by cancer through the illness or passing of a close family member (parent, sibling, or grandparent). Camp Angel is for kids ages 7-12; Camp Teen Angel is for teens ages 13-15; Camp Angel Adventures is for older teens ages 16-18; and Camp Angel Adventures Extreme is for 16-18 year olds who want to experience more extreme activities, and Camp Hozhoni, is a family camp for families with a child 18 or younger who has cancer.

My kids aren’t old enough to do this, but if they were, I would be so game.  It was hard enough for me to understand what was happening to our lives when cancer came along.  I can’t imagine how confusing or frustrating or scary it would be for a child to watch a mom or dad or sibling go through it.

New campers get ready for a weekend of fun at Camp Angel.
New campers get ready for a weekend of fun at Camp Angel.

These camps give kids the opportunity to be with their people.  The people who can handle what they have to say, who are right there with them, who can understand them.  Plus, it looks like a ton of fun.  Summer camps include swimming, kayaking, canoeing and fishing.  Winter camps feature snowshoeing, ice fishing, dog-sledding and sleigh rides.  I kind of wish I could go to the Angel Adventures Extreme.

Darci Sullivan (far right) enjoys a wet and wild ride at Angel Adventures.
Darci Sullivan (far right) enjoys a wet and wild ride at Angel Adventures.

Let me just reiterate why I agreed to write this post.  THIS PROGRAM IS FREE, cancer peeps and families of!  Take advantage!  (Well, it’s actually funded through donations, so that everyone who wants to attend may do so.)

And it’s not just for the kids.  In line with my own family needs, they host two different weekend retreats Angel Care and Healing Angels: one for cancer caregivers to give them the chance to replenish and revive themselves (Josh!); the other for cancer survivors to enjoy a safe and nurturing environment for them to continue their healing process (me and my ladies).

Although cancer may not give a shit, there are people out there that do, and I just wanted to make sure that you AND your families have to opportunity to find them before your cat runs away from the stress of it too.

 

**This is a sponsored blog; while the views expressed here are genuinely my own (as always!), consideration was paid to me by Angel On My Shoulder to review this product.

 

 

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