In the past week, I have found myself in a repeatedly awkward situation. I have heard the "news" that someone that I know, or close to someone that I know, or close to someone I grew up with, has cancer or has already died of cancer. As a number of my personal friends can tell you, I am a "fixer" (typically of everyone else's problems, but that's neither here nor there). You tell me it's broke? I find a way to un-broke it. I will neglect my own duties and responsibilities to try and make things right for you. No, it's not a motherly instinct, it's just how I'm wired (or miswired, as some may believe).
When you get news of something like this, especially because you're not directly involved or impacted by this person's cancer, things become even blurrier as to what your role is supposed to be and what you can do. Of course, the immediate answer is to provide whatever support the family and friends that you are in contact with need. Attend the funeral. Bring whatever you can to allow the family to grieve - while I am Jewish, and therefore, it's part of what I'm supposed to do, I love the fact that our religion recognizes that mourners are in no position to host guests, let alone take care of themselves, feed themselves, etc. They need this time to grieve, set aside the daily grind and everyday chores for a while, and depend on their community to care for them. So, Jewish or not, think about asking the family if, while in mourning or supporting someone in treatment, if you can bring dinner for them all, run some errands, walk the dog - whatever you can.
But what else can you do? And, let's be even more honest. The "novelty" tends to wear off after the first few days. I don't mean that to be disrespectful or cynical, but realistic. The farther you are removed from the people grieving or immediately supporting the person going through treatment or recovery, the easier it is to walk away. It's only natural.
So what then?
This is where I, personally, find LIVESTRONG to be an amazingly wonderful outlet for those who are aware of cancer in their circles and community, but don't have much to offer the cancer patients or their families and friends outside of support when it's appropriate. (Another fact of life - sometimes, it's not appropriate to inject yourself in someone else's private business and battles, no matter how good your intentions are.)
If you are like me, and have this strange drive to "do" something to "make it better," and find yourself in a position of not really being able to "do" anything, channel that energy into the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Know that, even though you, personally, may only be passing on information, raising funds by riding a bike, baking a cake, buying a piece of art or running a race, what you are doing is helping someone. You may not know where that someone is, you may not know if it's bringing food to a family too busy and tired to cook, getting resources for someone who feels overwhelmed and lost with the diagnosis they received or holding someone's hand as they learn what their treatment course of action is - you are enabling those who can do something.
And, if you decide to bike in that metric century, run that marathon or sign a petition, do it in the honor or name of person who sparked your need to do something. Let the family know what you're doing. That someone "out there" knows about what they are going through and are doing what little they can to help in the only way they know how.