Holiday Care Guide

2005 is a year I will never forget. August 4th was one of the best days of my life, the day my beautiful daughter Lily was born! November 21st, was one of the worst, the day I was diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer. Specifically, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a cancer almost always caused by asbestos exposure that affects the lining of the lungs. It was just a few days before Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season, and more importantly Lily was only 3 ½ months old. I was scared of what was to come and so I leaned on my family and friends, especially my wonderful husband Cam and my parents to help me through this time.

To completely remove the tumor and rid my body of the cancer I went through multiple treatments including an experimental treatment called extrapleural pneumonectomy. My left lung and surrounding tissue was removed and I underwent a ‘chemotherapy wash’ before finishing the surgery. I also went through weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, which was particularly draining for me.

There are so many lists of what not to get for someone in the hospital or going through treatment. So, what DO you get? I have always supported gifting for the person and not the illness. My loved ones know I am a sentimental person, so one friend donated to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation in my name. Others knew how expensive the costs were of traveling from Minnesota to Boston and back for treatments and check-ups, so they paid two months of my car payments to lighten the load. It is selfless gifts like these that will make a lasting impact.

However, you don’t have to be extravagant to do something meaningful for someone facing a tough diagnosis. Here are some examples of gifts I have either received or heard of over the years that I think would mean more than a basket of food and goodies.

Help with travel costs

  • Collection of travel sized items
  • Portable charger
  • Uber gift card
  • Drive them to doctor appointments

Help around the home

  • Laundry service
  • Take care of chores once a week (grocery shop, watch the kids, take out the trash, cook dinner)
  • Or once a day (walk the dog, clean the cat box, pick up the mail, shovel the driveway)
  • Just go and spend an hour with them, just keeping them company. Never underestimate the power of being there.

Lighten the financial load

  • Gas cards
  • Pay a monthly bill
  • Grocery store gift cards or delivery service

Entertainment options

  • Books on tape or Audible subscription
  • Subscription to a music streaming service like Spotify or Apple Music
  • Tickets to a local sporting event, concert, museum, or movie theater

Sentimental giving

  • Donate to a research foundation in their name
  • Brighten up the room with real flowers (if they can have them) or tissue paper flowers (if they can’t). I once brought a friend in the hospital a giant artificial gerbera daisy, he loved it!
  • A nice journal and pen set. Sometimes writing is a good way to get your feelings out, and is nice to be able to look back on when treatment is over to see how far you’ve come!
  • Write a letter from the heart

Giving is not about the cost or the money, it is about helping someone in need and giving a part of your day to make theirs a little better. So especially during this holiday season, if you know someone going through treatment, spend some time with them, use an above example, or simply ask “what can I do for you?” I guarantee it will mean so much to them, and you will feel great too!

On February 2nd, I will officially be an 11-year survivor as it was on that day 11 years ago my left lung was removed. I count my blessings everyday – because most mesothelioma patients only live 18 months past diagnosis – and try to live every day to the fullest, be open and honest, give Lily a childhood she will always remember, and love my family unconditionally.

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Author: Heather Von St. James