When Helping Helps! Series: Part 1

Posted on Aug 8 2013 - 8:57am by Kara Tippetts

I have had a few requests to write on the subject of what support helped as well as ways to avoid hurting someone facing cancer. I will be writing personally, specifically to cancer, but I feel these principals can help in many areas of life as it pertains to entering hard with another. I also intend to write about when helping hurts. That will be a difficult post to write.

I want to start by saying how very beautifully my community did at supporting me and caring for my family. I have been so well loved. This is a post to help a community enter this kind of story. My heart longs for everyone facing what I did to be loved as well as I was. As a community and a family, we learned a few things along the way that could be helpful to you, dear reader.

First, I want to say how extremely vulnerable being sick and weak is for a person. Just downloading these pictures from Jen this morning has left me weepy and struggling. Every part of my being has been changed by my treatment last year, and every cell of my being wants to forget it ever happened.

First, please look at the needs of the person you are caring for specifically. Look at their heart, their life, how they interact when they are healthy. Having a few people around me helped me feel human. I couldn’t always speak, but I loved people still speaking to me. I could tell when people were looking specifically at me when they were caring for me, and when people felt like they needed to help because they should help. Does that make sense? I want to explain this with grace, but there was a difference I could discern between those who felt they needed to love me because it was their duty as a Christian and those who loved me specifically and happened to be a Christian. The difference was that I personally felt seen. As though Kara existed, not just a young mama fighting a terrible disease. My heart, my needs, my life. I wanted very much to be seen and not just my disease. I’m not sure I articulated that well.

For me, as my treatment progressed the people around me grew smaller and smaller. It was hard for some who wanted very much to help, but Jason was seeing how much energy people were taking. Here’s the honest truth on what happened. I was so overly concerned that people would feel uncomfortable being with me sick, I would use every ounce of strength I had to pretend to be strong. When the person would leave, they would comment to Jason on how strong I was, but truly,I would collapse in exhaustion. Nothing remained for the kids and Jason who really needed me. So Jason became my gatekeeper. Just know, behind closed doors it is often worse than it appears. Going back to illness being vulnerable, no one wants to be ill. So even at my worst I only showed my true misery to a select few. It probably wasn’t very authentic or honest of me, but that’s what was. I have always struggled for strength. I fought against my weakness being my strength all through treatment. I wrote on it, I knew that was what I was being shown, but I fought it desperately. I wanted to be strong, not broken, miserable, sick.

Look at the person specifically. If a clean house is important to them, love them this way. My family arranged someone to come weekly. Our Elaine and Drew were such a gift. Everyone chipped in to have them come. It created consistency, it helped my caretakers, there was no schedule of friends to organize. It really lifted a huge burden from Jason.

There are so many sites to organize meals. This was a huge help. Our church, our school, our friends all joined this site to help us get our people fed. Spread this need far and wide. Think of as many helpers as possible on this front. It is good not to burden too many with this over and over. We had so many help in this area. So many. It was beautiful. Plus they knew our food aversions. Never did a single green pepper or pea enter this home. My dear Thea was so very gracious at letting people know our tastes. Jason struggled with school lunches, so we asked for help in this area. Thea helped organize this for Jason. It was huge. It is extremely important to protect your main caregiver.

I am an extrovert married to an introvert. Jason took the care of me very seriously. He struggled leaving me, but when we arranged people to be with me he could walk away. As people cared for my guy they cared for me. I remember a dear friend coming to our house. He looked at Jason with a heavy heart and said, “I just don’t know what to say.” He went on to say how he had struggled over how to support him. What to ask, how to help. His honesty with his fear in entering our yuck was so refreshing. We didn’t know what we were doing, but we knew we wanted people to struggle through figuring it out with us.

The journey facing a disease is so unbelievably long, I just encourage you to stay the course. Maybe you weren’t super involved in the beginning, but in the end helpers are tired. Don’t be burdened with guilt and not enter. Guilt is a liar. An absolute liar. I also remember feeling so cared for when people loved on my closest friends. Helped with their kids as they cared for me, or took them to lunch and asked about their hearts. As they cared for them, they cared for me. As I said, the sicker I became the more isolated I became and more was asked of the few. Loving those few was a huge part of caring for me.

I will end on this final story about a memory I have from my dear friend Jen. Previous to my illness, Jen and I had done most of our lives together. Kids, crafts, ministry, life: we processed it all together. We were each others person on so many levels. In a short time, God had connected our hearts in such a beautiful way. All at once, Jen found herself without her person. Cancer is a robber like that. My strength was gone, I was living in a stupor of medication and care from people she didn’t know. She was in my front line, on my closest team, she even changed a flight to be there for me on the day of my diagnosis. One day she came and sat by my bed. I could tell she was faking cheerfulness for my benefit. My heart hurt so badly for her. I remember saying something like, “please tell me.” Jen broke down and wept. She told me what she was struggling with, and in that moment I felt like Kara. Kara- the one people share heavy hearts with, Kara- the friend, Kara- the one that Jen loved and depended on. You see no one wants to be sick. No one. And if you have an opportunity to be real with someone struggling to live, it is a gift. I will never forget that moment. I may be cloudy on the details of what was burdening my dear friends heart, but what I’m not cloudy on was that me being in her life still mattered.

Next, I will write specifically on being a young mama facing cancer. How we deeply depended on people living with us to care for the littles in our life. Today was focused on the broader community. Thank you, dear reader, for sharing my story, entering my hard, and longing to love others in their suffering.

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24 Comments so far. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Lorri S. August 8, 2013 at 9:47 am - Reply

    So well said Kara. Great job!

  2. Suzanne August 8, 2013 at 10:17 am - Reply

    Eyes watering…thanks for putting your feelings to words in such an honest and beautiful way. You are a gift.

  3. Autumn August 8, 2013 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    Great insight to give others. Praying for you as you write these as I am sure it’s difficult to be so vulnerable and also to relive the memories. Love you

  4. Susan Gossner August 8, 2013 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your transparency. It must be difficult. It helps to hear the honesty, to know when to help and when strength really isn’t there.

  5. Lisa Ann August 9, 2013 at 6:33 am - Reply

    Thank you Dear Kara for writing this. For your honesty and openness and your desire to help others navigate these deep, terrible waters. As is often the case I am moved to tears. Still praying for you and your family and wish I could meet you in person someday.

  6. Charlene Schwartz August 9, 2013 at 7:45 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing your journey

  7. Tricia August 9, 2013 at 8:40 am - Reply

    Thank you for revisiting the ugly to share your heart Kara.

  8. Melissa J August 9, 2013 at 8:54 am - Reply

    Well said, and very helpful as we have a good friend going through this. She’s single, so her support system HAS to come from friends and community. But I do have one question…did you mean “vulnerable” instead of “venerable?” I

  9. Anna August 9, 2013 at 3:03 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this detailed post. My sister in law who I loved died of cancer a few years ago and I used the 3 hours driving distance as an excuse not to be too involved (too close) in her caregiving. I feel the guilt. I didn’t know what to do or what to say or what she needed…all those things you are talking about. Thank you so much. I won’t let it happen again. I will be there, stumbling through it with that person who is also going through it for the first time!! By God’s grace, I will be right in there caring.

  10. Carol August 9, 2013 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    I feel like your writing touches every fiber within me. I would have loved to have been part of your support team because I am so drawn to your whole journey. I am drawn to the Lord whom you love, and with whom you have just received every particle of strength from, especially in the most vulnerable times. We are going to visit a most dear relative next week who has Stage 4 cancer, and I am vulnerable too, so aware that only Jesus can heal the cancer, our brokenness before Him. I know all of life is lived with eternity in mind, but it still hurts deeply. Maybe we love too much; certainly I carry the burdens deep in my soul. You help me see the reality of GOD and His people. I am so blessed by your faith-walk. Much love to you and Jen. You are precious women of God.

  11. Ruth August 12, 2013 at 12:02 am - Reply

    Thank you for doing this difficult memory journey to walk each of us further along our lives of caring for one another. Your love for all of us is ever here dear friend…and it means a lot! I love you!

  12. Libby August 13, 2013 at 9:32 am - Reply

    I love you sweet Kara….you have such a gift of speaking your heart and it blesses others….

  13. Sherry Marders August 16, 2013 at 3:45 pm - Reply

    Kara, your blog touched my heart so deeply. I have been that person trying to help because I cared for the patient and sometimes because I thought I should care. Wonderful insights you gave. Such depth of understanding. I have friends going through what you are dealing with. You helped me see through their eyes. Thank you so much, Kara. Please include me on your next entries.

  14. Kit Willock October 8, 2013 at 5:42 am - Reply


    What a beautiful testimony; and what wonderful words of advice. In our Bible/Apologetic class, the high schoolers wrote down questions for us to discuss in class. One student asked, “What do we say to people who are suffering?” You have told us and shown us what to say, how to act, and how to help those around us who are struggling and suffering. What a blessing that is. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! You, Jason and your family have been such a blessing to all of us at Westside. Our love and prayers are with each of you every day.

  15. Lou Ann Brown October 26, 2013 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your honesty. I am an oncology nurse, working as a care coordinator who walks with my patients and their family on their lung cancer journey. But not only do I face this in my work, but as a pastor’s wife, I have walked this journey in a different way. We have 2 friends battling pancreatic and liver cancer right now, as well as, my sister in law in the midst of her breast cancer journey, surgery, chemo, radiation over for now, more surgeries ahead…so in many ways it is in every corner of our life. Your honesty helps me, to be that helping friend to those closest (needing to put the work me aside) and love on them as the Lord enables. I have shared your posts on how to truly be helpful, so that others may be encouraged on to serve those around them. Praying for Jason, you and your kiddos. You are loved with an everlasting love and underneath are His everlasting arms.

  16. Peggy October 16, 2014 at 8:11 pm - Reply

    It is so wonderful to hear from you, and our hearts can be with you and in your words. I praise God that He has given you such a way with your words, they flow so wonderfully through me. Ive tears in my eyes as I think of you, though I know nothing much about, but we are thinking and praying for you
    Love, eternal love.

  17. Jennifer Spears October 20, 2014 at 7:27 pm - Reply

    You have no idea how you have blessed me. My mother died of breast cancer in 1989. I was a young 20 years old. One night I went to her hospital bed, I needed “my mom!” My boyfriend (now husband) and I had decided to take a break in our relationship. I was DEVASTATED! I cried and cried and my mom, on a morphine drip, held me and was “my mom.” I have often thought of that moment as extremely selfish on my young adult self. I’ve often regretted that I put that on her. This blog has reminded me that that moment may have been a moment that my mom possibly felt needed. She may have felt alive in that moment that her daughter needed her, because I did!

  18. Tabitha October 21, 2014 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    So unbelievably true, the healthy seem to avoid the sick as they don’t know how to cope…my father has advanced Parkinson’s with Lewy Body Dimentia; only a handful of friends remain…most people run and don’t realize how hurtful it is.

    People also forget to ask how the caregiver is, in this case my mom ~ as I am sure your hubby has experienced the same. Reach out people, give a hug and a hand….there are SO many that could use it. Even a simple phone call…

  19. Anne October 22, 2014 at 12:17 pm - Reply

    Coming from someone who has been sick for the long it is a journey that can grow lonely and bring weariness especially to my hubby who takes on the role of caregiver, mom, dad, housekeeper and cook.

    This article articulates what we need. People to come along side us and walk through it with us…….. To give the few around a break.

    Praying about this as it is a really important topic.
    Living in community is vital for believers.

  20. Janet November 11, 2014 at 11:57 pm - Reply

    I am so thankful I found your blog. I feel so much of what you are saying. You are making others’ lives better even through your fight! What an amazing woman you are. I was the primary caretaker of my mother who had brain cancer. I took FMLA from my job and moved in with her and my dad to care for her. A decision I am so very happy I made. Something you touched on here in your post regarding how exhausting it is for a cancer patient to “entertain” having visitors is something I had and still have a problem with. The end was very near for my mother and I didn’t want visitors other than immediately family because I knew how taxing it was on her and a cousin dropped in to visit while I was (finally) in the shower and when I got out and she was standing at the bedside crying I told her she could only stay 5 minutes… she has been mad at me ever since. She also has half or more of the extended family mad at me. I struggle with this so much and my mom has been gone 3 years. I don’t understand why she cannot see (and those who listen to her story) that I was clearly only looking out for my mother’s best interest. Sorry to go on and on….

  21. Julie December 5, 2014 at 11:53 am - Reply

    Thanks Kara for your thoughts. Thank you for always pointing us back to Jesus. Your transparency is beautiful. Your life and your words give God great glory.

    As a pastor’s wife, a nurse and now a patient for the last year, I relate to your thoughts on helping. Thank you for articulating them – well said! We do need gatekeepers and the caregivers need to be cared for too. I heartily agree. And those folks who care for the kids so a friend can help you…..YES they are the best too! Amazing how the Body of Believers comes together to do their part and each part is important to the whole! May God’s grace continue to permeate your life as you live it…… not just somehow……but triumphantly!

  22. Carrie December 10, 2014 at 4:28 pm - Reply

    I just “met” you on Dr. Dobson’s program last week. Your story touched me. I don’t have experience with either side of your story but I know I most certainly will at some point. Life is like that. I don’t know you but I love you sister. You make me proud to be a Christian. My best friend and I always talk about “finishing well” and from where I sit you are doing just that. Thank you for sharing your life with the world. Blessings and may He continue to give you strength for whatever steps come next. He’s like that :)
    I look forward to meeting you in Heaven someday,
    Love you and will pray for you?

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