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Cooking For Cancer Patients and Their Families

Updated: Feb 23, 2021

Disclaimer: Written with Permission from my cousin

"Life Isn't Fair" I must have heard my mother say that a million times through the years. She'd continue, "The sooner you realize that, the better." As usual, mom was right. See Part Two to The Day my Life Changed.

None of us on this planet were guaranteed fairness. We were given life and it was up to us to do our best, through our own struggles, no matter what they might be. (See The Day My Life Changed)

One of my favorite charities is Lighthouse Mission. They are helping many, especially this time of year. So many are fighting a battle no one knows about, through no fault of their own.

Mom was loving, caring, honest, but she was never a coddler and never allowed us to throw pity parties. No, that wasn't her way. We were taught to be strong, independent and NEVER, EVER care what others think. That motto has worked well for all of her children and grandchildren. We face problems head on.

From the outside looking in, the perception has sometimes been we had a life of "perfection", "privilege" and endless "opportunity" aka life on easy street. The reality is, other's perceptions are their own fantasies, not reality. Reality is, we worked for everything we have, we've overcome many struggles throughout the generations, including legally immigrating to this country, facing poverty, discrimination (signs everywhere stating Italians need not apply), living through the depression, struggling through school, working menial jobs in factories, and starting from the bottom and working our way up. Now, four generations later, we have college graduates (master's degrees) and professionals in the medical field, technology, education, as well as, business owners.

We've battled illness, wars, and personal tragedies. I spent six years getting only 4 hours of sleep a night as a single mom of two, working full time and going to school the equivalent of full time. I still never missed anything for my kids, took them on yearly vacations and was always there for EVERYTHING, fun, sickness, tears and joy.

It's because of mom's teachings, we all faced problems head on and came through the other side a little beat up, bearing a few scars, but stronger and better than ever. It's how I left my ex 10 days before Christmas in 1994 with the clothes on our backs and two little kids in my arms. It's how we fought illness, natural disasters and now a pandemic.

Me holding my nephew and Godson on the day of his Christening.

Our family got the biggest dose of "life isn't fair" when a young family member (my nephew and godson) was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of liver cancer. From day one, the doctors were honest with us. This wasn't good. He saw many doctors and by the time he made it to Mt. Sinai, he'd had many opinions and had reached the top. There was nowhere else to go. The team of doctors who agreed to treat him at Mt. Sinai were the best.

I learned a lot when our family was going through this terrible time. We fought long and hard to try to save him. We did everything in our power including fund raising for alternative treatments, but sadly, my godson and nephew (actually my first cousin's son) but her kids call me aunt and mine call her aunt, passed away on December 16, 2011 at age 25 after a four year battle.

Some recommendations:

  • Appoint a spokesperson. Close family members are busy and worried and repeating the same story over and over to concerned callers is putting a huge strain and causing a lot more anxiety.

  • Everyone wants information. Allow the spokesperson to disperse the information in various ways. Through private messages (emails, texts, etc.), phone calls, or through a chain - they tell three people who are then responsible for contacting others.

I remarried Memorial Day weekend, May, 2011. My Godson was at the wedding and saw the entire family. I think it was the last family event he was able to attend. I'm glad it was at a happy occasion.

Because he was so ill, my husband and I chose to honeymoon close to home. We went to Montauk, which is part of the Hamptons. Yes, it's in our backyard, yes the Hamptons is our playground, but... it's also a hot spot for destination weddings and people travel from near and far to marry and/or honeymoon there. We just happen to live here. It's what happens when family members are ill, people want to stay close to home.

We settled into married life and soon moved from where I had been living to a new place. There I met a wonderful elderly neighbor who welcomed us to the neighborhood and immediately befriended us.

One Spring day I was cooking while hubby was at work. My neighbor knocked at my door and asked, "Oh my Goodness, WHAT are you cooking, it smells amazing." I invited her in and offered her some coffee. We chatted as I cooked and then I sent some of the meal home with her for her and her husband.

Not long after that fun afternoon, I got the sad news that her husband was diagnosed with cancer. I knew what they would be going through.

  • Back and forth to the hospital is exhausting and causes a ton of anxiety.

  • Keeping up with all your responsibilities is nearly impossible when you are spending so much time at a hospital, doctor's appointments, testing facilities, pharmacies, etc.

  • If you do get a minute, it's usually filled with people coming to visit, sometimes from out of town. Now you have to put people up or "entertain" them.

One day, I saw my neighbor through my picture window as I was cooking. She was walking up the drive towards her front door. It was just before dinner. She looked tired, worried, barely able to stand on her feet. I soon saw a car pull up and about five people also made their way to her door.

Thirty minutes later, my doorbell rang. It was pizza delivery. Wrong home. It was for my neighbor. Who has time to cook, who has the energy, when you are exhausted and sick with worry. She ordered pizza for everyone.

When my nephew was in palliative care, my cousin spent a month by his side. She slept right next to him, showered in the area off his room and took what little she could eat, right there in the pantry, by his bedside. She had a family at home, a daughter, granddaughter, another young son and a husband who were all running back and forth to the hospital in New York City. Families in these situations need help, in many ways.

  • Illness is expensive. People don't realize how expensive until they are in the throes of it. I myself wound up owing my company money as my FMLA ran out. I wasn't getting paid and it was costing me money to be sick.

  • People spend more money on ordering food, catering food for guests, and buying quick and easy junk foods (frozen entrees, etc.) because they are always in a rush.

  • Housework, bill paying, repairs all suffer.

  • Wear and tear on their vehicle and an increase in gas spending with all the travel necessary back and forth to hospitals, doctors, testing facilities, pharmacies and to obtain other types of supplies you wouldn't normally need.

  • Jobs are on the line. There are only so many sick/personal/vacation days or FMLA time one can have. There's only so much paid leave one is entitled to or that a company can afford.

These families need help. Your passion can be just the answer.

I directed the pizza delivery boy to the correct address and went back to preparing my dinner. Then I remembered the knock on my door that day and how excited my neighbor was about what I was cooking. I thought, I LOVE to cook, she loved the meal and she always comments on what I'm cooking. Why not help her by sending food over.

So started my endeavor of cooking and sending food for her or her and her husband (depending on if he was home and not hospitalized and also what he was able to eat at the moment). If I knew she would have guests for the day or from out of town, I'd send trays enough to feed them all.

I'll never forget the look on my neighbor's face the first time I brought over a large tray. She had intended on yet again ordering pizza. She'd told me during the week that friends were coming from out of town, so I got started in the supermarket then the kitchen. That look on her face is engrained in my brain the same way I will always remember the young mother I delivered a Thanksgiving basket to (for that story click link)

I cooked and sent food for about eight months, until my neighbor, widowed for a few weeks, moved to Maryland to live with her daughter. She couldn't bear to go back to her home. She never did. She stayed with a sister-in-law and her daughter's family backed her home and moved her.

After she moved, I got involved with another woman and we would cook for cancer patients and their families. We did this for at least eight months, but my own medical issues and the expense forced us to stop. I was in and out of hospitals so much that I didn't have the ability to try to start our own charity and ask for volunteers and donations.

Food makes people happy. It is the heart of all we do in happy times and sad. Sometimes, complete strangers make a huge impact on your life or do a small, but wonderful deed, like the man in the grocery store. Sometimes, people come into one another's lives at the right time, when they need one another the most.

What is your passion? Do you love to cook, sew, knit, crochet, write, bake, paint, sing, play an instrument. Do you have a dog suitable to train as a therapy dog? Maybe you have a specialized service, such as carpentry or electronics. I know people who have built ramps on homes or installed all smart equipment that can be voice activated. Isn't it wonderful for someone sick in bed to be able to turn on the television or turn off a light just using their voice?

You can use your passion to help others. There are many in need, especially during these trying times. You can use your passion to do good. You can also help by donating to this wonderful charity, especially during this holiday season. Lighthouse Mission. They are always looking for volunteers as well.

You never know how much you help others when you share your passions. My friend is a violinist and listening to her play is so soothing. I bring up her YouTube channel (the link is not my friend, it's just beautiful orchestra music) and just listen as I lay in a hospital bed. I can forget all my problems diving into a short story or novel. Being I'm always freezing, a warm crocheted blanket can be thrown over my legs to make me feel better.

Video above of people and their situations. People all come into this life the same way. What makes them who they are is what's on the inside. Their actions, their attitude, their eagerness and their abilities. No one is guaranteed anything. Sometimes, through no fault of our own, bad things happen. It's how we face them and how we help others that matters. Make the right choices and be aware of your actions. Don't play the blame game, remember, your story seems like the worst, but we ALL have problems and hurdles that are just as terrible and painful.

It's the little things, the small things we give and receive that can make the most impact. A simple recipe has meant so much to our family since 1973. Each Thanksgiving we are reminded of the wonderful neighbor who welcomed us with a pot of coffee and treats as we moved into our house across the street from hers in 1972.

You never know how much good small gestures do but they could change a life. My father has been friends with a man since they were young teens back in Brooklyn. When they were in their late 70's, that man told him, "Being friends with you changed my life." My dad was shocked. He had no idea how bringing him around his family helped him to go in the right direction. Amazing, right.

Someone once told me a story. It was very brief. But because of what was said, it made me make a life change. That story made me realize I had to leave my ex. For my sake and my children's sake. I never wanted my kids to grow up and ask me, "Mom, why did you stay."

Do for others. Never think, oh, that's no big deal. That small gesture may be life changing or saving for them!

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