When someone we care about is hit by a devastating illness, our first reaction is to reach out and lend a hand. But often we don’t know where to start or what to do. Lin’s Army is the story of how one woman built an army of support around a friend battling breast cancer. The ideas and resources she used can help you form a similar network around a friend in need.
Two Friends – Christine and Linda
Neighbors Christine Istas and Linda (Lin) Tiede were good friends. They belonged to the same play group, their kids went to the same school, and their husbands both were named Scott. They talked to each other almost daily. They were two women facing the challenges moms everywhere share.
In April 2010, Linda’s world abruptly changed when she was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes.
Christine desperately wanted to help her friend.
Get Immediate Needs Met – CareCalendar
With a flurry of medical appointments and the start of chemotherapy, Christine knew she could relieve one burden by providing meals to the Tiede family.
“I had resisted being the one to coordinate meals, at first, because I was afraid that I was not organized enough to take on this job. I just did not want to let her down,” Christine explained.
A friend told Christine about CareCalendar, a free, web-based resource. With a single calendar accessible to everyone, friends could easily sign up to provide meals as they were needed. Linda’s CareCalendar also gave volunteers information on the family’s favorite foods, meal times and Linda’s special dietary needs.
CareCalendar can be used to schedule everything from meals to transportation for medical treatments.
Give People Ways to Help
Friends asked Christine what else they could do. Severely compromised by chemotherapy treatments, Linda needed help with more than just family meals.
“By the time I started writing my first e-mail, I decided that this was more than organizing meals. I was just a secretary for the army of people standing by to help her defend herself against cancer and germs. As a joke, I called myself the Secretary of Defense of Lin’s private army,” said Christine.
Christine began a series of emails to Lin’s Army. In the emails, Christine updated people on Linda’s condition and suggested ways friends could help.
- “Fight like a girl” t-shirts and tank tops were sold.
- Men wanted to help, too. “Lin’sArmy” unisex and boy t-shirts were added.
- A neighbor collected donations to support a cleaning service for the family.
- Others donated magazines and books to help Linda pass the time at her medical appointments.
- People donated gift cards to local restaurants.
By providing options, Christine expanded Lin’s Army beyond the two dozen women cooking meals to an entire community, each lending a hand in their own way. Christine’s support list grew from 30 to hundreds.
Communicate Health Updates
While Christine was sending emails to rally Lin’s Army, Linda began her own communication on CaringBridge. Another free, web-based platform, CaringBridge is available to anyone with a significant health condition.
Like many battling serious illness, Linda appreciated all the support she was receiving from the community, but she found telling and retelling her story emotionally exhausting. Linda used her CaringBridge site to update family and friends with blog-like posts.
While Linda’s CaringBridge site continues to provide updates on her condition, it has evolved into a platform to express her hopes, insights, and gratitude.
At the time of her diagnosis, Linda’s three children were ages 4, 8 and 10. Having a parent with a significant medical condition can feel incredibly scary and isolating to young children. Lin’s Army wanted to ensure Linda’s family knew the community was rooting for them.
Supporters wore “Lin’s Army” t-shirts to school events and pink “Lin’s Army” bracelets were distributed to parents and children. The Tiede children saw kids in the classroom, at the park, and throughout the neighborhood wearing bracelets and t-shirts supporting their mom.
“It can be difficult to know what to say to someone struggling with a long term illness. Wearing t-shirts or bracelets is a way to express support and sympathy without words. Words are great, but how many times can a person say or hear the same words?” said Christine.
Expand the Caring Network
“Don’t try to do it all yourself. It can’t be just one person,” said Christine.
Christine laughed when she talked about a bake sale that a group of moms organized at the neighborhood school. “I can’t tell you how much time went into making and selling t-shirts for Lin and then these moms have a bake sale and raise twice as much.”
Christine found parent and neighborhood groups had fund-raising and support ideas. Christine did not try to organize all the efforts. Instead, she used her newsy emails to get the word out about the different ways people in the community could lend a hand to help Linda and her family.
Reconnect the Network
It’s relatively easy to get support in the first months of a medical crisis. It becomes more challenging to keep that support in place for years.
Linda battled through her initial rounds of chemo and surgeries, and entered a period of remission in early 2011. When doctors found cancer in Linda’s liver, Christine relied on email as her go-to medium to reassemble support for the Tiede family. Christine used email to:
- Inform supporters of a fund the Tiede’s church had established tohelp the family with mounting medical expenses.
- Consolidate information on local efforts to support Linda including prayers services and a blood drive.
- Link friends and family not living in the area with new ways theycould help.
In October 2012, Linda began yet another round of chemotherapy treatment. Lin’s Army is still strong. Recently a girls’ bible study group, Faith and Friends, collected donations and distributed pink pumpkins for neighbors to display in support of the Tiede family. Christine still uses CareCalender to schedule meals and her emails continue to channel much needed help to the family.
Posted on Linda’s CaringBridge site: “So many blessings. Family, friends, and neighbors. Then perfect strangers. My church, my children’s schools, coworkers of my husband. Even though we have been going through this journey for a long time, people haven’t forgotten and still show so much love and support! All of these things inspire me to stay positive and take care of myself the best I can.”
CareCalendar at www.carecalendar.org
CaringBridge at www.caringbridge.org