By Vivian Mabuni
“Call me if you need anything.” She meant those words sincerely. I could see it in her eyes. Concern. Compassion. Helplessness. I smiled and said, “Thank you,” knowing full well I would not be calling. After three surgeries, six rounds of a triple medicine chemo cocktail, and still facing 33 radiation treatments for breast cancer, my body and soul felt weary to the core. In the past I had offered the same exact words of help to friends hurting, but now the tables turned. Now I was the hurting one. Cancer treatment left me depleted. I couldn’t muster up enough energy to pick up the phone if I needed anything. Now I understood why no one took me up on past offers to help even when they were hurting.
Sometimes we buy into the myth “Just me and Jesus is enough.” We don’t want to inconvenience others or we isolate when faced with difficulties. As leaders we may find ourselves playing the role of the strong one in our relationships. People seek us out for insight, perspective and wisdom. My Asian heritage and cultural value of “don’t rock the boat” or “the nail that sticks out gets hammered down” amplified my struggle of not wanting to bother people with my problems.
However, my life changed after a friend shared the story of a woman known as the “Asian Martha Stewart.” After this woman received her breast cancer diagnosis she refused help from friends. The harsh cancer treatments left her so weak she could no longer hold her perfect world together. Tragically she committed suicide and left behind her husband and two kids.
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After hearing this story, I promised God that if anything like that happened in my life I would let people in. Two months later I received my cancer diagnosis.
I chose to be vulnerable with three close friends who lived within ten minutes of me. They became affectionately known as the Awesome Threesome.
Three things I found unhelpful during my cancer battle: the offer “call me if you need anything,” unsolicited advice, and the look on the bright side comments, “At least it’s stage 3 cancer instead of stage 4.” Instead what I found most helpful: safe friends like the Awesomes who didn’t try to fix my feelings, but instead knew how to empathize. They walked beside the real, raw, vulnerable me.
Our presence is the greatest present to help those who hurt.