Do you have a tribe? You’re gonna need a tribe to get through this thing called life. Life can be so good! But it can also be crazy and chaotic and sometimes just plain hard. We need to surround ourselves with good people. With people who make us happy, who give us support, who “get” us, who make us laugh. And your vibe attracts your tribe, ya know? So I think that whatever type of friend you are or what type of love and energy you give out is what type of friends and love you’ll get in return. That whole give good and get good idea. And it can be overwhelming going through life without people to help you. As I make my way through the rollercoaster that is motherhood, the phrase “it takes a village” comes to mind all of the time. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, we need help in raising these little humans. Think about all of the people who are in your life and the life of your children, giving them additional guidance and love along the way. There are extended family members, friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, church leaders, etc. making up your tribe, your village.
I’m still feeling the spirit of gratitude this month and I want to give my tribe a big THANK YOU! To be honest, I never even realized all of the people who are part of my tribe until I got cancer. I feel so bad that I took all of these wonderful people around me for granted. And one of the biggest things that I’ve learned since going through cancer treatment is that we can’t do it all ourselves and it’s ok to let other people help us. Leading my tribe is my hubby. I wrote a little bit about him the other day and his life as a cancer husband AKA my sexy male nurse, to read it click here.
Along with my hubby, my parents were right there through it all. They are amazing people. I didn’t always think so though. When I was a moody teenager I thought they were strict and so uncool. When they made me move to the tiny town of Los Alamos, New Mexico with them the summer before my senior year of high school I thought they were cruel and I was mad about it. I mean, who does that to their kid right before senior year?! That, however, is a story for another time. Now, obviously, I understand that my Dad didn’t have a choice about moving if he wanted to keep his job and his benefits with a company he had worked with for so many years. And I don’t think it was until I started having children of my own that a lightbulb went off in my head and I really started to relate to my parents more. Now it was all making sense-the rules, the curfews, everything. I now have so much respect and admiration for them and for all they did for me and my brother.
My parents are retired and live in Prescott, Arizona which is about 6 hours from us. I started treatment at the end of May 2016 with radiation first. Our girls still had about a month left of school. Without hesitation, my parents packed a couple of bags and moved in to help. My Dad would drive me to treatment every day and then he would cook us dinner every night. He would also drive the girls to and from school and to their various activities after school. My mom would help with things around the house and took care of the girls. My parents stayed for seven weeks and we would have been lost without them here. I am forever grateful for all they did for us. And I should mention that we have a fairly small house and so with seven of us all squished in here it was quite an adventure. But looking back on it now I realize that my girls are so blessed to have been able to share so much time with their grandparents. My girls have always been close to them but this time together really strengthened their bond and they made so many memories that they will cherish forever.
We also had a lot of family checking in on us constantly. Most live far away, but it was still so nice to get a little package of fun stuff in the mail or a sweet hand written note from them. Sometimes a text message was just what I needed to lift my spirits a bit. My brother lives in New York City but he was constantly sending me messages of support and encouragement. He also sent us the DVDs of Game of Thrones…um, best distraction ever! And my cousin who is probably one of the busiest, most hard-working people I know, would stop by when she could and just sit by me on the couch, sharing a blanket and we would chat and laugh. All of these efforts meant so much to me. Chad’s aunt and cousin also helped us a lot with the girls. My second phase of treatment was chemo only and when I did that Chad’s cousin would come every other Monday and stay with our girls. I don’t know what we would have done without her. Those chemo days were long, Chad and I were gone just about all day. His cousin would stay with our youngest who wasn’t in school yet, she would pick the older girls up from school, help them with their homework, take them to gymnastics or volleyball and feed them dinner. Seriously, we can never thank her enough for all of her help.
Having to do cancer treatments and going to so many doctor appointments when you have young kids is stressful because you have to find people to watch them or places for them to go-enter your tribe. We have a great group of friends, some from high school, some from when we were newly married and some we’ve only known a few years who all stepped in to help. Just a couple of days after we found out I had cancer my good friends from where we had previously lived gathered together a ton of goodies and drove to our house. They stocked my freezer with meals, they gave me thoughtful gifts and they all wrote me uplifting notes. They’ll never know just how much that meant to me. These ladies and I became friends during a time in my life when my husband was a gang officer (meaning he was at work ALL of the time) and I was busy with a 4 year old and a 2 year old while pregnant with our third baby. They were a big part of my village in those crazy days and I still miss them now so much. And it wasn’t so much about the amazing things that they brought for us, but just the gesture that they so quickly rallied up and came to my rescue yet again. And then they continued to check in with me during treatment, asking me constantly how I was, what I needed and how they could help.
What was most overwhelming for me after finding out I had cancer was realizing that my tribe was much bigger than I thought. There was a good friend from church who not only watched our girls a lot, but she set up meals to be brought into our house three times a week. For the entire time I was doing treatments-this was for months! There were friends who came and took my kids out or invited them over to swim or play. Neighbors who gave the girls a ride to school or who offered their help. Parents of the girls’ friends from school who had our girls over to play or helped out with carpooling. The girls’ teachers who asked what they could do to help. Parents from the soccer team who brought us food and offered their help. People from my husband’s work who gave us gift cards to restaurants so we wouldn’t have to cook. Random packages from Amazon showed up at our door from generous friends. People would bring my girls treats or activities they could do to keep them entertained while I rested. Numerous phone calls, messages and cards we received letting us know that we were loved and that we weren’t alone. And again, this really isn’t about all of the “stuff” people gave us. But we were so overwhelmed by the fact that all of these people, from our family to our best friends to people who were really just acquaintances, would think of our family during our time of need. It really touched my heart that so many helped us when I know they all have a lot going on in their own lives and have their own struggles and hardships as well. People really sacrificed of their time and their finances to provide a little relief for us. It renewed my faith in humanity and that there is still good in the world.
I also added a new group of people to my tribe when I got cancer-my medical team. How can I not include them? They saved my life. They became a big part of our life and still are today. They’ve seen me at my absolute worst and helped me to conquer this beast and come back to real life. My doctors are amazing. I can tell you that if you don’t love your doctor, switch! It’s ok. You might be worried about offending them, but you need to be comfortable with your doctor and feel like your needs are being met. My chemo oncologist is my favorite. I think I’ve said it before, but he is smart, takes his time to really listen to our concerns and answer questions and he also doesn’t want to scope me where the sun don’t shine. So, yes, he’s my favorite. Did I mention he also plays the drums in a 90s rock cover band too? He’s pretty awesome! I also love my radiation oncologist, she is so sweet. Except that she left UCI a few months ago to go where she can have a better schedule for her family. I cried, I was so sad. You really create a bond with these doctors who you see so often and who know all of your deepest darkest medical woes. I felt a bit abandoned when she left, we had been through so much together, but I understand why she left and I’m happy to say that her replacement is pretty great too.
My nurses are probably the most important people in my medical tribe. They are amazing! And they get stuff done! My nurses are probably the busiest people I have ever met, always on their feet, never slowing down, and yet they are the most caring, compassionate people too. And I now have a special place in my heart for chemo nurses. I never realized all that they see and do every day at work. Their patients are sick. Really sick. And some of them might not ever get better. That’s got to be hard. I have to say that my chemo nurses are such awesome ladies, I really got lucky! They didn’t treat me like I was sick. They didn’t give me the usual shocked reaction I get when someone finds out that I had rectal cancer at the age of 36. They took the time to get to know me, to learn about my family, to ask how I was feeling and they put up with Chad, ha ha. I could get upset and cry with them and they didn’t get awkward or uncomfortable. One had experienced cancer herself when she was around my age and she just gave me a big hug and told me I was going to be ok. Others had told me that before, but it meant a lot coming from someone who had actually been through it. My chemo nurses called me “Jules,” they made me laugh and they took all of my anxiety about chemo away. I looked forward to getting to chat with them every other Monday during the 5-6 hours I was there and hearing about what was going on in their lives too. And my clinical trial coordinator is one of our besties now. She went above and beyond helping with insurance issues, getting us appointments and answering all of our questions over and over again. We truly could not get through this whole experience without her and her help.
Wow, this post got really long. But I am just SO grateful for these wonderful people. I have the BEST tribe. I wish I could name everyone out individually and thank them for every single thing they did, but that could take a while. I just want them to know that nothing went unnoticed. And everything, big or small, meant so much to me and to our family. My tribe truly went above and beyond. They made us feel loved and cared for and that feeling is something we will never forget. Now that I am on the other side of treatment, I have made it my goal to be better. To help others more, to look for opportunities to do even the smallest thing that might make someone else’s load a little lighter, to remind others that they aren’t alone in life. I feel like I’ve been blessed with more time here on earth and so I better do my best to make the most of each day. And I’ve been blessed with an amazing tribe and my hope is that I am a valuable part of someone else’s tribe too. So gather your tribe, friends. You need them. And it’s ok to need them. And at some point in your life when a trial comes you will be so glad you have them.
*To read from the beginning of my cancer journey, click here.