PTSD, Cancer and Grief: Healing Begins with Hope

This guest post has been contributed by Because Hope Matters founder, Maryann Makekau.

maryann makekauLet’s face it. Cancer is a word that conjures up less than positive images. It has the power to stir up emotions we would rather deny. It can easily render us speechless. I’ve often said that unchecked grief is not good grief. I know that may sound contrary to logic and emotions … stay with me. Grief can be good when cancer delivers hope.

I first encountered the ripple effect of cancer through a phone call. For 25 years we’d stood by one another even when stationed worlds apart. Our paths had crossed at my last duty station. During my exit from the military, Vicki Kennedy and I struck up a friendship. There in childbirth classes, accompanied by our husbands, we embraced the excitement of new life. No matter where we went from that point on, a phone call made time and distance feel irrelevant. We could’ve never imagined the relevance cancer would play in our lives.

It was near Christmas 2008 when Vicki called me.  Just like always we felt connected as if time had stood still. But this call was different … very different. A routine mammogram had conjured up positive images that were less than favorable. Breast cancer had abruptly knocked at my best friend’s door nearly 30 years after lung cancer had stolen away her mother. To this day, my eyes still well up with tears when I share this story. I gasped over the trauma of her news and the intensity of grief that ran through me. I was speechless. My emotions collided with hers. Momentary silence filled the miles between us. Then, all at once – I felt sad, afraid, confused, angry, scared – and happy, oddly enough. She had called me. That spoke volumes about our friendship, the depth of trust, and the smiles we’d shared.

The ripple effects of cancer arrived unannounced and uninvited. I went from feeling helpless to helpful within that 10-minute phone call. The “little ducklings” in her 2nd grade classroom were of utmost concern. She didn’t want to scare them but she wanted to help them talk about it. I promised to find the “perfect” book.  I scoured bookshelves for days at brick and mortars, libraries, and online. I came up empty-handed.

I didn’t want a book that went “around” cancer. I wanted a book that met it head-on, yet gently and honestly. I wanted a book that enveloped grief, to include the happiness that comes in being helpful instead of helpless. You see something missing? Maybe God’s telling you to do it! My pastor’s words ran through my head … and so, the writing began.

Now, let’s flash forward six years to the power of good grief. My friend is free of cancer and still teaching little ducklings. That gift for my friend turned into a series of little pink books and opportunities to heal other people’s grief. Speaking at conferences means I’m available for a line of stories:

  • My mother died of cancer and no one wanted to talk about it.
  • I thought I did something wrong. The subject was seemingly off-limits.
  • So, we are not helpless! The little girl in me just got empowered.

The opportunities for cancer to deliver hope will not stop. I will experience grief every time I hear of another cancer diagnosis, of another life interrupted, of another child wondering and hoping to help. I can’t stop advocating any more than I can erase cancer. Unchecked grief is not good grief.

Children with unchecked grief are like an alarm clock waiting to sound. We must give them a voice, not later, but now, as soon as possible after cancer knocks. Let’s help it be “good grief” – processed enabled grief rather than postponed traumatic grief. Their little hands are capable of helping to make a big difference.

maryann makekau book coverWhen I discovered the Little Pink Houses of Hope, I knew our paths would cross somewhere, somehow. The founder, Jeanine Patten-Coble, is a cancer survivor with a vision for wellness. Yes, wellness is possible while going through cancer. The ripple effects of cancer affect our entire sense of being. Medicine doesn’t stop with chemotherapy and radiation. There are “complementary medicines” that nourish our emotional and spiritual selves too. Little Pink Houses of Hope provides that kind of nourishment for families with a week-long FREE retreat for the patient and the family. It is a place to experience wellness inside cancer.

How can I contribute to that blessing? The question had danced through my mind more than once. “We believe a cancer diagnosis does not just affect the patient, but the entire family. The mission is to promote breast cancer recovery by offering opportunities … to reconnect and celebrate life.” When I read that statement on Jeanine’s website, I had an epiphany. I can help families discover the gift of hope through reading!

That inspired a campaign. Little Pink Houses of Hope and Hope Matters joined hands. When cancer delivers hope through reading, we can ease the pain and worry that comes with the diagnosis. We can magnify hope in hurting lives. Our shared passion to make a difference can do even more. Together, we can love them through it.

You can help us deliver 100 copies of “When Your Mom Has Cancer” straight into the hands of moms, dads, and kids attending Little Pink retreats this summer. Visit the campaign – magnify hope!

MARYANN MAKEKAU is an author, speaker, and radio co-host with over twenty-five years of mental health expertise. She is also a veteran, spouse of retired military member, and mother of two grown children. She founded Hope Matters to make a difference in hurting lives worldwide – while magnifying hope through her Little Pink Books and Little Patriot Books. Contact Maryann through her website.



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