This is the second of two articles about being a care partner to someone with terminal cancer. Click here to read Part 1. If you would like to share your health experiences, please sign up here.

Tiffini Joseph lost her loving mother to lung cancer in 2010 after a long and hard-fought battle. Today, her mother’s legacy is still alive as Tiffini continues to make a difference through lung cancer advocacy efforts.

But don’t let Tiffini’s confidence and inspirational messages fool you, she still feels the deep loss of her mother every day—especially during big life moments like the births of her two youngest children. The hole her mother left behind will never be filled, but Tiffini’s strength and bravery have allowed her to find a “new normal”.

Caring for Someone with Cancer

What do you do when you get the life-changing cancer news that seems to make your whole world stop spinning? Finding out someone you care for has cancer can bring on a complex mix of emotions and leave you confused when it comes to how, where and when you should be helping. As someone who’s gone through it, Tiffini shared some valuable insight with us:

It’s not easy. It’s hard to be a caregiver. I wasn’t the one going through the cancer. I wasn’t the one who had to get the treatments. I wasn’t the one who felt tired or sick. My mom tried hard to put a happy face on all the time, but I know she didn’t feel good a lot. You just need to be supportive and not push them to do something they’re not capable of doing. Do what you can, while also allowing them to have their own independence, and recognizing that it’s hard for them to rely on other people.”

Find people who understand and support you. Take some time for yourself. When caring for someone else becomes all encompassing, you can lose yourself.”

Preparing for the Unimaginable

How do you even begin to prepare for the unthinkable? Whether you’re the partner or family member of someone with cancer, or you’re the one fighting for your life, there may come a heartbreaking moment when it becomes apparent that the treatments aren’t going to work. The truth is, most people avoid talking about these things because of how painful they can be, but Tiffini didn’t shy away:

It’s important to talk about things with them. Some of the conversations that are hard to have are the end of life conversations about your will and your power of attorney. They’re really, really important. Those were things that my mom was not comfortable talking about. She refused to make a will, which created a problem once she passed away because we had to deal with probate. And that was just awful as it was a constant reminder of her passing. It was a year later, so it just dug back up a lot of emotions. Also, having a conversation about what they want in the end is really important because you don’t want to be doing something to them rather than for them.”

If you’re someone with kids or grandkids, record their voice. I would love to be able to have my kids listen to my mom’s voice. Take pictures, even if you’re sick. In some of our best pictures my mom was sick, but we captured amazing quality time together. My kids know my mom because I have a lot of pictures and I talk about her. Two of my children weren’t even born yet when she passed, but they each know her. They each have something of hers and talk about her.”

How to Care for Someone Caring for Someone with Cancer

Life doesn’t exactly come with a set of instructions. So, what do you do when someone you know has a loved one fighting cancer? You want to help, but maybe you’re hesitant because they haven’t reached out to you in a while and you don’t want to insert yourself. Well, Tiffini remembers what it felt like to be the person who needed help but didn’t know how to ask:

“Whether it’s a cancer diagnosis or the loss of a loved one, other people feel uncomfortable. I always suggest to people, if someone gets diagnosed with cancer, just say something like, “That sucks. That’s awful.” And they need to remember that the person with the cancer or who has lost someone isn’t going to reach out to anybody.

If you’re a real friend, you call them and offer your support. You don’t wait for them to call you. When I was going through it, people would say to me all the time, ‘Let me know if you need anything. Call me.’ 

I didn’t know what I needed. So, when someone came over and offered to have my house cleaned, it was amazing. I didn’t have to ask, they just did it. If you really want to help someone, go do something for them.

When Grief Never Goes Away

Always remember that there’s no “normal” way to process the death of a loved one. There’s no estimated recovery time or expiration date on grief. You can take your time and be true to what you need, because only you really know what that is. At first you may not even know what you need, and that’s okay too. Tiffini put it perfectly when she shared about life after the loss of her mother:

Remember, some people don’t understand. People will say the dumbest things to you when someone’s sick or you lose someone you care about, but it’s only because they haven’t experienced it. They’ll say, ‘they’re in a better place’ or ‘there’s no more pain’. That’s all great, but obviously the better place would be here with me and my family. They also say, ‘it’ll get better’. My concept of grief is a little bit different. It doesn’t ever get better for me, it just gets different. There are some days that the pain is so unbelievably intense, and it feels just like when it happened.”

There are days throughout the year that will continue to be difficult, like on my mother’s birthday or the anniversary of her passing. So, we do things to celebrate her on those days. On her birthday we whisper messages in bubbles and blow them to her. Grief continues, it just changes, and it gets different. It’s never gotten better. You just need to learn to live a new normal, because your life is completely changed.”

We know Tiffini would love to see that her heartfelt words have touched someone else going through a similar situation, so please feel encouraged to leave a comment below or share this post with someone else who may need it!