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It takes a village

Author: Laurie Wertich

When Dale Lauer was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, he knew he was going to need support to get through it—but he had no idea how wide that support network would grow. “It’s a good thing they gave us such a big hospital room because it was packed the whole time,” he jokes.

And it wasn’t just a group of your average well-wishers filling that room; it was Dale’s community, gathered to do everything they could to support Dale and his family as they navigated cancer. Family, friends and neighbors couldn’t fight the cancer for Dale, but they could do just about everything else—including home repairs, fundraisers, dog sitting and more.

Now, with his cancer in remission, Dale and his wife, Cheryl, will tell you: “We didn’t do this alone.”

Why a village

Any individual facing a cancer diagnosis will tell you that cancer is only one component— albeit a big and scary one—of life. “People still have to go to work, take care of their children, manage a home and more,” explains Tracy McDonald, RN, BSN, Care Manager at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) in Zion, Illinois. “When you have a support network, you’re able to share the load—it’s the village approach.”

McDonald explains that this village approach is critical in the face of cancer. “Everybody has to come together and work together to meet the needs of the patient,” she says. “It’s best when you have the team approach on both ends— the support staff at the hospital and the personal support system of family and friends.”

Often this approach frees up patients to focus all of their attention and energy on getting well, knowing that their community will take care of the rest.

Team Dale

Dale and Cheryl know all about teamwork. They have three sons—Joel, Brock and Ryan—and a busy, full life in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania. After years of coaching sports teams in his community, one thing is certain: Dale is a team player.

So here’s what happened when he was diagnosed with cancer: Everyone wanted to help. Everyone. For Dale that help arrived in too many surprising ways to count. It started with his son Joel’s nearmiraculous ability to get off the ship he was working on 200 miles offshore to join his family in support of Dale—a feat that involved the coordination of a delivery helicopter and a willing crew member who cut short his own leave to get back on the ship to take Joel’s place. But that was only the beginning.

By the time Joel arrived home to help his parents, a support network had been born and family and friends leapt into action. Joel called his best friend, whose mom had battled cancer, and the friend told him to get to CTCA®. They made the arrangements—and then Dale’s sister, Linda, and his brother, Gary, accompanied him to CTCA in Zion while Cheryl and Joel delivered Ryan to college in New Mexico before heading to CTCA.

Meanwhile, there were problems on the home front—but nothing that Team Dale couldn’t handle. With the rest of the family on the road, Brock was at home dealing with water damage. Dale’s brother-in-law, Jim, and his nephews tore out the carpet and removed the damaged woodwork, while his brother Mark came over and fixed the roof and the ceiling and repaired the damage.

“From day one we had everyone pitching in and doing whatever we needed,” Dale recalls. That initial help set the standard for what was to come—because Dale was in the hospital for the long haul.

Continued support

After two rounds of chemotherapy failed to put him in remission, Dale needed a bone marrow transplant. That meant a long-term hospital stay, a lot of support—and a donor.

Dale was lucky: Both brothers were 100 percent matches—a rarity. His younger brother, Mark, didn’t hesitate to volunteer. “I knew he was going to be my donor because my whole life whatever I break, he fixes. He’s just a Mister-Fix-It type of person,” Dale says. “It just comes naturally to him. He doesn’t even think about it.”

And this is where that support network grew wider than Dale could have ever imagined. Mark’s employers gave him unlimited time off to help, and his union even donated money. “Some of those guys I don’t even know,” Dale says incredulously.

The Lauers’ nephews, cousin, siblings and in-laws, friends and neighbors pitched in to take care of their dogs and their house. Dale’s mom put him on a nationwide prayer list. Their home community held a huge fundraiser for them. Friends sent Christmas decorations for the hospital room. Family visited. You name it—and the Lauers’ community delivered it.

“You watch the news and see all the bad stuff, and then something like this happens and you’re overwhelmed by how many great people are out there who step up,” Dale says. “There is no way I can repay everybody who has done something for me.”

And that’s the idea—no repayment necessary. This is what it means to live in a “village.”

Accepting support

Cheryl says the whole experience has changed her life—for the better. “Let people step up and help,” she advises. “If somebody offers to help, take them up on it. It changes your life. It really does.”

Joel echoes this sentiment: “It was amazing to see the way everybody came together in such a short time to help us.”

All of the Lauers insist that CTCA was a huge part of their support network. “We joke that our family has grown by about 100 people since arriving here,” Joel says.

Although they had the incredible support of family and friends, Cheryl says the support from CTCA was integral. “We had the option of being closer to home, and we chose to be here instead; we are so grateful that we did,” she says.

McDonald says it is part of the CTCA mission to provide a high level of support. “We have a Patient Empowered Care® team,” she explains. “When we say, ‘It takes a village,’ there is actually a team of us that works with every patient—a care manager, oncologist, nutritionist, mind-body therapist, naturopathic doctor and more. We really work together and utilize all of the resources to make sure that a patient has the best experience possible.”

Building a village

McDonald says it’s important to build a solid support system and to stay engaged with friends and community as much as possible. “We want our patients to continue to experience life,” she explains. “We don’t want cancer to become the person.”

Support might come in the form of the care team at the hospital, support groups, family, friends, church, colleagues, neighbors or employers. Cheryl talks about how much she appreciated even the smallest acts of kindness, like her neighbors taking the garbage to the curb when she wasn’t home. Those little things become big things in the face of illness.

In December 2012 Dale and Cheryl finally returned home— with the cancer in remission and a new appreciation for the people in their life. “I was extremely fortunate to have the support that I did,” Dale says. “You have no idea what it does to keep you motivated. It is just unbelievable.”

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