How A Stranger Taught Me Secret To Truly Helping A Sick Friend

I stole an hour of a remarkable woman’s time this week.

For Barbara, time surely is a precious commodity.

For all of us, truly.

Barbara just knows it better than most of us.

I would think she had better things to do than spend time talking to me, a stranger.

See, Barbara is fighting for her life.


This is the third time cancer has come knocking at her door.

Breast cancer at 32.

Again at 45.

This time is has shown up as ovarian cancer.

I got up the nerve to barge my way into her life after hearing something remarkable from her neighbor, Rebecca.

“She’s writing letters to people she’s known throughout her life,” Rebecca shared with me, having just received one.”

I have to say I was intrigued.

I asked Rebecca to make an introduction.

“Yes, I’m writing,” Barbara confirmed as we connected this week after one of her weekly chemo treatments. “It’s my way of staying accountable.”

I trust someone who has beaten cancer twice to know what’s good for her.

When she got this most recent diagnosis around Christmas, Barbara got The Question.

The one I find myself asking too often these days.

I know you ask it, too, Dear Reader.

When you hear someone you love is sick.

Is in crisis.

“What can I do?”

I ask.

But after talking to Barbara I realize I think I haven’t really heard.

Before I hear the answer, I’m already setting up a Meal Train or offering rides to treatment or filling in the blank of some other life chore.

This time.

This third time with cancer, Barbara had a fascinating response.

What she wanted.

What she really needed.

Was someone to listen.

To let her be honest.

To bear witness to her journey.

She asked her far-flung network of people to be willing to receive her letters.

To respond, if they wished, but mainly, simply to receive.

About 20 people have opted in.

Some are family.

Some chosen family.

This is no Caring Bridge update.

Sure, there is the latest and greatest of her medical treatment, perhaps a mention of something absurd that always seem to happen during difficult times.

And then the raw, real honest journey.

“I wanted, I needed to look at the journey of facing my mortality, to bear witness.” Barbara explained. “Cancer or not, I’m much nearer to the end of my life at 65 than I was at 32 or 45. I want to look at and share what is the meaning of my life? What is the meaning of life of those I’m writing to?”

Yeah, big stuff.

Barbara doesn’t want to just fight for her life.

She wants to share life.

Through these letters.

That was Barbara’s answer.

Turns out, she didn’t need someone to make a chicken casserole.

She needed someone to make space.

What a brilliant idea.

What a brilliant woman.

What a brilliant life.


Please check out my weekly column in The Atlanta Journal Constitution, The Dayton Daily News and other Cox Newspapers across the country.

For some inspiration in really short chapters, please check out my new book, “Hope Possible: A Network News Anchor’s Thoughts On Losing Her Job, Finding Love, A New Career, And My Dog, Always My Dog.”

 final front cover



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How A Stranger Taught Me Secret To Truly Helping A Sick Friend

by DarynKagan time to read: 2 min
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