Rashel's Choice

Illustration of a mother with shaved head carrying her son on her shoulders while toy airplanes float around them
Craig Phillips

Rashel Ross wasn't worried when she found the lump. At least not at first. As an active 28-year-old, she didn't expect it to be cancerous. And as a single mom, she didn't have time to think about being sick. When Rashel received the diagnosis of breast cancer, she was in shock. Her son, Maxwell, was only 5 years old. A flood of fear and confusion poured over her. What now?

With the help of a large community of friends, Rashel was able to go through the treatments and use what was left of her energy to focus on Max. She signed up to be the room mom at Max's school and did all she could to engage with him one-on-one. She didn't want to miss any time with her boy, even though there were days when it took all she had just to walk across the room.

Support network

Something else happened in that chaotic time of diagnosis and treatment. Rashel noticed that many of the patients in the hospital didn't have the support network she did. She saw fear and loneliness on their faces, and their pain broke her heart.

As a single parent fighting her own battle with cancer, Rashel had every reason to focus on herself, but she couldn't shake the heaviness in her heart when she thought about the other patients. Rashel recalled the decision she had made early in her solo-parenting journey: I will engage fully in parenting and fully in life — no matter what. She had to do something to help them.

A friend came up with the idea for the Rashel Foundation. The foundation opened its doors while Rashel was still receiving treatment. Its purpose was to be the church in Birmingham, Ala., for those who had cancer. People let them know their need, and the foundation coordinated volunteers to help. If people going through treatment needed their toilets cleaned, a ride to the hospital or money to cover the electric bill, the Rashel Foundation matched the need with those who were able to provide for it.

A sweet distraction

When Rashel began feeling better, she took others in for their chemo treatments. Max loved it. He sat in the backseat of the car, chatting away. Because he had been around cancer patients, he wasn't intimidated by oxygen tubes, wheelchairs or bald heads. He would engage people in conversations that had nothing to do with cancer, and his little-boy charm melted their hearts.

It's been five years since Rashel's initial diagnosis. She recently closed the foundation so she could focus more on her son, but she and Max still do what they can to help others. Max, who is now 10, has a heart of compassion that continues to touch other lives.

If you were to ask Rashel and Max about the foundation, they would tell you that being a part of it was a privilege. The Rashel Foundation was a gift, a sweet distraction from the pain of their own journey. Through it, they were able to reach beyond themselves and serve the larger community.

Single Parent Toolkit

Sometimes the best medicine for our pain is to help others in the same situation. No matter your story, you have something beautiful to offer someone else. If you're interested in reaching out, consider these steps:

  • Stay connected. Before you help others, it's good to have a support network of your own. Develop friendships through a local church and invest in those relationships.
  • Talk to a mentor. Whether it's a pastor or a fellow single parent, talk to someone you trust and ask where he or she sees you serving. You might have a knack for listening, tackling a budget or serving a meal. Nearly every ability or strength can be translated into an opportunity to help someone else.
  • Ask God. He designed us to serve others, and He has a specific plan for both you and your children. Ask Him for the best place to serve, and then look for open doors.

This article first appeared in the July/August, 2010 issue of Thriving Family magazine. If you enjoyed this article, read more like it in Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. Get it delivered to your home by subscribing for a gift of any amount.

Copyright © 2010 by Elsa Kok Colopy. Used by permission.

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