Caregiver support, Health & Wellness, Survivor & Caregiver

Hope is in Our Soul

By Dr. Shelby Terstriep

September 4, 2013

One of my dear friends was diagnosed with stage IV cancer this past week. She is one of those people who knows my weaknesses and insecurities, and loves me anyway. I find myself in a weird world of being a doctor and knowing too much, and being a friend who wants to and will do anything for her.

She already has had an outpouring of support from friends—because the type of friend she has been to me, she has been to so many people. I find myself in a situation that I hear from so many people whose loved ones are facing cancer — feeling totally helpless.

I want desperately to do and say just the right thing that will comfort and cheer her and give her strength and hope. I’m not sure I’ll ever find the words to say all that I want to, but I stumbled across a stanza from Emily Dickenson’s poem “Hope” the other day. I think this is a good place to start:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all…

I love that.  Hope is in our soul and never stops at all.

Such a simple, beautiful idea for anyone to keep in their heart, especially when facing a challenging time.

Have you struggled with finding the right thing to say or do for someone you love who’s been diagnosed with cancer?

If you’re a survivor — is there anything particularly meaningful that someone said or did for you? 


  • Stacy Moe

    Getting random cards or care packages in the mail always lifted my spirits. It’s nice to know people will still make the effort and take the time to handwrite a simple note or card. I also made sure I sent Thank You notes back. Also, getting rides to radiation treatments to give my husband a break was greatly appreciated.

    • Shelby Terstriep

      Great ideas Stacy!

  • Amy Thompson

    Every day during the summer, a college student took my son and did activities with him in the afternoon . People made meals for our family. Cards and packages brighten my day.

    • Shelby Terstriep

      Thanks Amy. I’ll bet your son appreciated the one on one attention :) . How old was he when you went through treatment?
      What was your favorite meals??

      • Amy Thompson

        He was seven. I would say any kind of soup and fish

  • Kimberly J. Byrd Lucas

    Freshly made pierogis, taking me out for (slow) walks in the park, Caramel Frappuccinos, phone calls, cards, Facebook messages, emails, holding my hand when I got “poked” for a blood draw or chemo, hand-knit lap afghans and fuzzy blankets to keep me warm during chemo, having all the staff in the whole building wear pink or pink ribbons on my last day of work before I went on medical leave, baking cookies for me to offer to my visitors, providing food for my family for five weeks, calling up to say, “I’d like to visit. Would that be okay? When is a good time?,” being on what seemed like every prayer chain in Ohio — really, all this comes down to one thing: knowing people were thinking about me. That meant everything to me.

    There are many things you can do, but my advice is to ask, “Is there something in particular that would help? What do you need?” And keep asking because those needs may change. The biggest lesson I learned was that everyone’s experience is different, and there is no one right answer to this question.

    As for the best thing to say — I guess my suggestion is similar to that above. “You are in my thoughts. Is there anything I can do to help?” If they don’t have an answer to that question, you might consider one of Amy or Stacy’s suggestions or one of mine because really, any of them tell the person that you care, and that’s what they need to know.

    • Shelby Terstriep

      Kimberly-again great tips. I think your tips highlight what I hear from a lot of my patients when I ask them with admiration “how do you get through this?” They often say, it was a compilation of a lot of small acts of kindess.
      I also like the language that you use–the words we choose can make or break a nice gesture!

      • Kimberly J. Byrd Lucas

        Thanks, Shelby. I was actually overwhelmed by people’s kindness — to the point of feeling guilty. Then, a friend of mine said, “Don’t you know that’s what grace is, Kym? Being able to accept that people are doing this because they want to!” After that, I felt a lot better and could just appreciate it all for what it was — acts of charity toward another human being.