Seventeen years ago this week my mother died. I dreamed about her last night and woke up with her on my mind. In my dreams she is healthy and happy, but she wasn't when we said our last goodbye. It was just a little over a year from the time we heard the fateful word "cancer," until she died the next July. Without a doubt 1989 was the toughest year of my life.

Last week, a good friend of mine learned that her mother has cancer and that it has spread to several different organs. "I'm just afraid it's too late," she said to me. Within seconds my mind traveled back in time, reliving that last year and wishing I knew how to help her.

Yesterday while walking at the park and praying for my friend, I thought of some things I wanted her to know. I think of them as lessons I learned about cancer. I shared them with my friend and I hope they helped her a little. I'm sharing them with you too, just in case there are others going through similar experiences that might benefit from someone who has been there.

  1. There is always hope. My husband's brother was diagnosed with a particularly deadly type of lung cancer over two years ago. His prognosis was not good. It's been a tough two years but so far he has surprised all his doctors and defied the odds. As long as there is life, there is hope.
  2. Cherish every moment of every day you have together. Our whole family went to Disney World the month before my mother died. How in the world mom was able to get out of her wheelchair and climb through the Swiss Family Robinson tree house I will never know; but she did, and those memories are dear to my heart.
  3. Kids are wonderful distractions and reminders of happiness. Our oldest child was 8, our daughter was 5 and our youngest son was three when my mother became ill. Even on the darkest days you can find joy in the sound of a child's laughter.
  4. If so, be a friend to them!
  5. Take care of yourself. In the middle of the most stressful time of my life, I found that exercise made a big difference in how I felt and coped with things. At first I started walking just to get out of the house and get some fresh air; but I soon realized that brisk walking helped me physically and mentally, even if it was just for fifteen minutes a day.
  6. Remember to lean on others. My sister-in-law became my best friend during mom's last year. She stood by my side every step of the way. She loved my mother as much as I did and I couldn't have asked for a better friend. My brother and my husband were helpful too, but they both had to work. Not a day went by that Kelly didn't come to sit with mom so that I could be with my children. The Bible reminds us that "a real friend sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24). When a loved one is seriously ill, there are no greater comforts that God, prayer, and true friends.

Is there someone you know who is going through a year like the one I had in 1989? If so, be a friend to them. Encourage them in any way you can. Pray for them, as well as their loved one. Be a friend that sticks closer than a brother.