How This Cancer Patient and Her Friend Are Changing the Conversation Around Cancer: 'It's Very Difficult to Ask for Help'
Jen Kraemer-Smith was early into her pregnancy with her third child when she was diagnosed with breast cancer
When Jen Kraemer-Smith was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, she was handed stacks of pamphlets to help explain her journey ahead.
Kraemer-Smith was early into her pregnancy with her third child, and she was overwhelmed by all the information being thrown at her.
“When the doctor starts speaking to you, at least for me, it was like a buzzing in my ears,” Kraemer-Smith, 42, tells PEOPLE. “My husband was sitting next to me and he was as terrified as I was, and the doctors kept saying, ‘Do you have any questions?’ and you’re terrified and frightened. The whole idea of it was too daunting.”
While Kraemer-Smith tried to find the answers to her many questions, her co-worker and close friend, Andrea Delbanco, had questions of her own about how to be a supportive friend.
“You can do anything for anybody who’s going through any time of trouble – you can arrange meals or send pajamas, but there wasn’t anything that was specific to cancer,” Delbanco, 37, tells PEOPLE.
After reaching their goal of $25,000 and receiving 200 backers, they interviewed professionals and created informational decks of cards to not only help patients learn about their diagnosis in a more bite-size format, but also to help friends of patients offer their support and learn about the illness.
The cards are sold online and come in four different sets that focus on practical planning, common concerns, emotional elements and potential pitfalls.
Sets are also available specifically for friends, couples and caregivers. And more targeted decks offer prompts on more specific personal categories, such as hair loss and parenting.
“Wearing a wig for the first time is an incredible adventure,” Kraemer-Smith, a mom of three, says. “For me, my oncologist basically said, ‘You’re going to be losing your hair and it’s going to be very anxiety-producing once it starts falling out,’ and I said, ‘What do I do about that?’ and they just hand you this over-reproduced list of places that they have recommended. If someone came to me and said, ‘Here are 10 starting points,’ it would’ve been really helpful.”
Kraemer-Smith says the decks of cards also offer suggestions for ways friends can help.
“It’s very difficult for me to ask for help; I would almost rather do anything else,” she says. “It’s really difficult to help somebody with cancer. There’s really not one go-to. When you find out somebody is pregnant, you send them What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but when you find out your friend has cancer, there isn’t anything you feel like you can send.”
Delbanco adds, “We just thought it would be nice to have something that wasn’t totally linear. You can take these in any order, and if something is overwhelming to you or doesn’t apply to you, you can move on and come back to it.”
The cards are designed for any age during any stage of cancer.
“We realized this could really help other people,” Delbanco says.
Kraemer-Smith overcame breast cancer and gave birth to a healthy baby girl, but she was faced with the disease again in May 2014 and now continues to battle spinal cancer.
“Having it come back wasn’t great – it’s not good at all – but I feel like this is something that can help me to help people and have something good come out of it. I want my children to know that Mommy was working on something that can help people,” she says. “For both of us, it’s been a really great experience.”