Support for People with Cancer
What to Write
Many new Angels are in a quandary as they begin their first assignment. They are just not sure what to write to this new person in their life. Below are some suggestions from veteran Angels...
I chatter about what is going on in my life. Just go with the flow and things will be fine. The important thing is that you are thinking of them.
I felt funny at first writing about myself all the time. Instead of asking how my buddy is, because asking questions is a no-no, I write things like I hope this finds you well or I hope you are having a good day, something like that. You can write about you, your family, your day, etc....from your heart. anything that can take them away from what they are going through for that time that they read your letter.
I can tell you that you're doing exactly the right thing by writing about yourself and your life. And you give the equivalent of a huge hug each time you write. The thing that seems most mundane to you may bring a smile to your buddy's face. I sometimes write about what I see out my window (snow on the mountains, hummingbirds, fall leaves turning, etc.). Sometimes I relate childhood stories (remembering your first snowfall, your first day at school, banging on pots with wooden spoons on New Year's eve, etc.). I like to write quite a bit with each card and sometimes I sit down to write thinking "I have little to say today". Lo and behold stuff comes pouring out.
In my letters I tell my buddy what is going on in my life. Well, only the good things, of course. She especially likes to hear about my grandchildren. I try not to delve into her physical issues but do offer her encouragement and tell her that she is in my prayers. She loves to read so I usually tell her about the book I am reading. She lives up north so I tell her about our beautiful mid-western autumns. I guess what I am saying is write your letters like you were writing to a friend, because you are.
I write about every day life. My current buddy is a child. I address my letters Dear M....... and Family. I tell them about my day and the silly things my animals do. Since my patient is so young I'm more writing to the family than her. I do make sure when I send a package each week that it has a card just for my buddy, so that she still feels special. I also love to read the comics. When I find one that applies to me I cut it out and send it along explaining why I found the strip so amusing.
I write about things that are happening in my life (GOOD THINGS ONLY!), how my lovely oriental lilies started to grow and then croaked, LOL .... anything interesting. If you have children, what they've been doing; how they're doing in school; if you do crafts, what you're doing and what it looks like. My goodness! There are so many things to write about...weather, shopping, work (GOOD THINGS HERE TOO), if you're retired if you do anything special (I'm retired and started guitar lessons last year)......I'm sure others have more ideas. I don't think you can ever send too many cards.
When I write to my buddy, I also like to start and end with encouraging words. I say things like "I'm sitting here drinking my coffee thinking of you." "At church this morning our pastor said something that reminded me of you" or "My dog did something so cute today that I knew you would love to hear about!" I always end my notes by reminding her that she is always in my thoughts and daily prayers. I don't tell her to feel better or hang in there because her cancer is terminal and that sounds condescending to me. It can be tricky to know what to say at first, but as long as your buddy knows you are always thinking of him/her.
When I write my buddy, I just start right off with what is going on in my world, what I have been doing, what I am going to do. I write about cute stuff in my neighbor hood. And because my Buddy writes back to me, she has let me know many times that she loves reading about what I am doing, where I am going and that she imagines that she is there with me and it gives her relief from her distress at that time. At the very end of each of my messages or letters to her I say "Buddy, I hope that TODAY is a good day for you", and leave it at that. We know that most of our buddies are not feeling so well, or may not even recover, but I think that wishing them a good day is a good thing, it works for me.
I write about my daily life and add a couple of funny quotes or jokes and an inspirational quote in my cards.
I suggest for your first letter, tell your buddy the basics - name, age, marital status, # of kids, pets, hobbies, etc. Keep it upbeat. Pictures are great and surely make it easier for your buddy to visualize you. You can always expand in future correspondence. I'm a card angel, and send 2 cards per week - one with a small gift. In my non-gift-card, I often drop a tidbit about myself or what is going on in my neighborhood. So I'm filling in my buddy little by little. I think too much information in the beginning can be overwhelming - you don't want your buddy to feel bombarded with information.
Last bit of advice - be yourself! If you are naturally chatty, write chatty letters. Handwritten or typed, I can guarantee your buddy won't care. Just the fact that you write is enough.
I type all my letters because my thoughts get ahead of my hand when I'm writing and goodness knows WHAT it will say! HAH! Anyway, my intro gives a short synopsis of ME! Who I am, how old I am, what I look like, where I live, how many kids I have & pets, and a few things that I like, i.e. CHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE CHOCOLATE! Then just say you'll write more later and sign off. In my letters I type everything EXCEPT my signature ~ I usually write that in a different colored ink! And that's how I do it! I write and give info that I would like to know if someone I didn't know was writing to me!
For our intro letter we took a family digital picture in front of our big azalea bush (in full bloom right now) and we're holding a big dry erase board with nothing on it. Then I will put it in my photo editor and write a cute note to him on the dry erase board and put our names over each of our heads. My handwriting is bad, so I am going to type the letter and add a little clip art that has to do with his favorite things and put some M&M's with glow in the dark wrappers (he likes chocolate). Then, in the next couple of days my family and I will put together a package to send him.
I usually write a newsy letter and mail it at the beginning of the week. All week long, I gather clean jokes and comics and put them into a word document. Come Friday, I print this off and mail it. Some where along the line I started to send one to several other people in my life. They all love the joke packs, it's a great way to start their weekend off with a smile and a laugh.
My buddy loves hearing about my everyday activities. Some days there's nothing to write about; other days there is. I also send pictures. Now don't think I'm "nuts" or anything but here is what one batch of pictures I sent her had written on the back...
1) these are my brand new oriental lilies just peeking through the ground
2) these are the lilies .. about 2" high
3) they're growing .... about 6" high now
4) aren't these looking good? They're about a foot tall now. Can't wait until they bloom.
5) this is what my lilies look like AFTER they croaked! (that picture contained dead sticks sticking out of the ground)
My buddy and her son got the biggest laugh over that one and although it happened last year, she still brings up the subject because she still finds it funny. She also likes it when I make "boo boo's" when writing, cross it out and write "OOPS!" or when I write something really silly and then write <cracking up laughing here>. So, your personal life (positive stuff only) are really important and interesting reading for your buddy.
I find writing to my Buddy to be the best part of my Angel experience. I write to her as if we were old friends and I wanted to share a moment or something funny that happened at the dinner table. One of my notes described a favorite doll I had as a kid and how I loved to imagine where I would go if I had all of the cool clothes that she had. It was unseasonably warm one day and I took the dog for a walk. It felt so nice to have the sun on my face and the smell of spring in the air and I wrote to her about that. I took a picture of the sunrise one morning and it looked like cotton candy. I sent her the photo and I wrote all about the amusement park I love at the beach and how good the cotton candy smells when you walk into the park. I found a website that made me laugh out loud (guinea pig clothes and costumes www.cuddlycavies.com) and I printed the homepage to send to her with some notes about the content. My greatest source of material comes form the things my kids say and do. The Valentine's day party at school, making the travel team, having the dog we constructed out of paper mache dry (like cement!) to the kitchen table. I would like to suggest keeping a copy of the letters you write to your Buddy. When I re-read the notes I've written, I am reminded of all the things in my life that are good. It's like keeping a diary without any negative entries.
The best thing to do is just write like you were having a conversation, even though it is a one sided one. Share your day and life with your buddy. Visit the area you live and explore it as if it was your first visit and tell your buddy what you see and enjoy. Share your pets, kids, church, clubs, hobbies and anything else in your life. How about your vacation and other places you visit. Send postcards with a note about what you did and saw. The longer you do it, the easer it becomes to "chat" with your buddy. Share your neighborhood and friends. As a cancer survivor, believe me, during this time they want to hear about normal everyday things, or at least I did. I know it seems "funny" to keep writing about yourself. But--strange as it may seem, our buddies love it. Pretend you're writing in a journal or diary. Tell what's going on--but keep it light-hearted and funny. If, occasionally, you have to, "alter" the facts to make it funny, as opposed to grim reality. I've decided that's okay. (For me.) I wrote about leaving my husband' favorite coat in a hotel room and what I had to go through to retrieve it. My buddy and family said they were in stitches reading what I wrote. (Just an example of something that wasn't really funny, but could be made into a "good" story".
You can also send comics, puzzles, inspirational quotes, etc. After a bit of time you'll find your groove. I try to send something very personal once a week and then send an additional note/puzzle/quote/the next time. The important thing is to SEND/WRITE!! Trust me--this is what means EVERYTHING to them.
I've been an angel for a long time. My introductory letters reflect back about me what I've learned about her from the intro we get from admin - hobbies, interests, favorites, family, etc. I also send a photo so she can identify with me. I am a cancer survivor and mention briefly the type and that I went through chemo, radiation and surgery - and then don't mention it again. I never send "Get Well" cards - or use the phrases we are so used to using "Get well soon" or "Hope you are well". I say "Thinking of you today" at the beginning of all my notes. Depending on religious affiliation, I may also include: you are in my prayers. I may also say "....such and such reminded me of you..." I also never ask questions unless it is a "rhetorical" one that doesn't require a reply. I write about the weather, what I am going to do that day, on-going projects (garden, stitching, moving my mom), work, my pets. I make most of my own cards - but keep it short with maybe a longer letter once a month. By short, I mean three short paragraphs. I usually end with "Hugs" or "God Bless" (depending on beliefs) I don't use "Love" because although I may be feeling that, my buddy may not - as time goes on, I may add it to the end. I occasionally include greetings from my spouse. If I don't get time to write a note - I'll send a card with a pre-written message, but not too often.
I thought I would pass along a hint that has helped me. I've been an angel since 3 mo after the program started. My mom died from lung cancer and I began angeling in her honor. Now that we are in cold and flu season, I thought I'd share with you what I've been doing. I always try to keep several generically written cards and generic gifts wrapped, written, packaged, and ready to go. I find that during a hectic time or if I've been sick myself, it works out well for me. I can just grab a card or package and have someone go to the post office for me. That way my buddy has no clue that I'm sick, and I'm not lagging on my mailings. I could never write later and say, "sorry you haven't heard from me because I was sick". They don't need to hear our woes, that is not good angeling. So keep a few cards or a few gifts ready to mail at all times so that when you find that you are not well, or overwhelmed with your own life, you can still fulfill your obligation.
I just send a first letter that is like the conversation you might have when you first meet someone. I told her about my husband, my kids, and my pets. I told her that I was a teacher and a little about what I teach and my school. I think I also sent a picture my daughter drew for her, but that may have been the second letter. Now I just kind of give her an update of what I've been doing since my previous letter. I also write about things like my favorite places, favorite memories, things like that. Whatever you write will brightened your buddy's day if you stay on positive topics.
One rule of thumb I use is to pretend that person is here with me and they are blind. I describe everything in detail, my garden, the dog, my Mom and her wonderful sayings, the mobile home estates where we live and some of the zany things they have going on for the residents here, some of the funny things on the news... like here in Southern California they had a straight face whilst talking about the "storm watch" which meant a 20% chance of rain. Stuff like that, that will make her smile, snicker and shake her head a bit.
I never ask questions. We aren't supposed to. I think I have a pretty boring uneventful life, but I know from the patient feedback I've received that my buddy really likes my letters. I just write about my dogs (a lot!) and my family, fun or eventful things that happened at work, what my friends have been up to, how big my sunflowers are getting... just normal stuff like that. I personally think my letters are a good way for her to forget about her worries for a while and just read a letter from a friend. I usually start my letters with something like, "I hope today is sunny for you" or something like that, but otherwise I just keep it light so it's not a reminder of what she is going through, but a little break from it all!