Our entire family was hit by the crisis. But there was only one person who had cancer. Me. There was only one body that was sick. Mine. So everyone needed help from our community — not just me. Actually, it was my family that needed the community’s help most. I had the doctors to help me.

How to be a support crew

While I was throwing up from chemo, a support crew of people formed around my family. It was the hospital’s idea. The “network team,” as it was called, consisted of friends, colleagues, and friends of friends. Without them, the day felt worse. The network team wasn’t there to console anyone. They didn’t come with platitudes and good advice. And they didn’t try to bolster anyone’s mood. They took a practical approach by making dinner, mowing the lawn and filling the fridge. And every now and then they’d remember to ask my brother how he was. Everyone constantly asked me, but what about him?

How to make every day a little more hopeful

Because of the network team’s efforts, my parents could concentrate on taking care of a sick daughter and a son who was soon to graduate. Mom and dad could use their energy to accommodate all the hard feelings that hung in the atmosphere and relate constructively to all the concerns haunting them. My father could even go to work. Our family isn’t rich. We didn’t live in a house with domestic help. But we got more support than we anticipated, and that made every day a little more hopeful.

How to offer your help

If you want to help a family facing a major health crisis, then look beyond the specific location of the disease. Maybe they have an empty fridge. Perhaps an overflowing laundry basket. Perhaps there’s a dog that needs a walk, or a sibling who needs a ride to soccer practice and an experience that life still holds something other than chemo and cancer.