Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Jeanine Patten-Coble says, ‘Want to help? Turn your offer upside down!’

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Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Jeanine Patten-Coble, the nationally known author and activist who has helped thousands of families cope with cancer, has some important advice if you want to help a family grappling with cancer: “Want to help? Turn your offer upside down!”

“At this point, everyone is aware of breast cancer,” Jeanine said in an interview this week. “So rather than emphasizing ‘Awareness’ in October, I like to emphasize Breast Cancer Engagement. That’s the real challenge. How do we reach out and help? The main advice I have for friends who want to help is: Don’t sit on the sidelines and wait to be called. Jump into the life of the person who needs your help.

“The most useless thing you can say to someone with cancer is: ‘Call me if you need help.’ If you’re living through a crisis, or if you’re facing a terminal illness, responding to such an offer is very difficult. First, that person who is struggling has to initiate a call back to you. For a lot of people, that’s a huge hurdle. We don’t like to ask for help. We don’t like to bother friends with requests that will take their time in a busy week. Then, even if you’re willing to make the call, you have to find the energy to call. For a lot of people with cancer, that’s another big hurdle. You’re down. You’re struggling. You’re exhausted from treatment. You simply may not have enough energy left to make a call, asking for help.

“So what can you do—if you really want to help? You turn your offer upside down. Don’t say: ‘Call me if you need help.’ Instead you can decide to just jump into that person’s life and start helping. Here’s a good example: You call and say, ‘I’m going to the store this morning. What can I pick up and drop off for you?’ Or here’s another idea: ‘I’m taking my kids to the park this afternoon. What time can I pick up your kids to join us?’

“Think about all the things you and your family do in the course of a week. That other family is struggling to get through each week. Engagement is the key. Simply make them a part of your life.”


Jeanine Patten-Coble

That’s the advice Jeanine took to heart when she survived a dire cancer diagnosis herself, then founded her nationally known nonprofit Little Pink Houses of Hope, a dramatic story she tells in Struck by Hope: The True Story of Answering God’s Call and the Creation of Little Pink Houses of Hope.

Here is how Jeanine begins to describe that process of transformation: “On the absolute worst possible day in my life, the day I dreaded telling my son about my cancer, God showed up. … He knocked me over. If it had been a scene out of a cartoon, it would have been God with a big huge frying pan hitting me over the head, stars swirling around me. God’s calling can be big and powerful moments, faint voices, or small and tender nudges. It can be a voice in the darkness or a trumpet in the light.”

Struggling to overcome her own cancer, Jeanine came up with a brilliant—and very ambitious—idea. She knew, first hand, that families need relief from the daily pressures of treatment, anxiety and weariness. She dreamed of finding locations nationwide where she could partner with property owners and local supporters to offer week-long retreats to families wrestling with cancer.

As readers will learn in her inspiring memoir—Jeanine turned her dream into reality. However, she has faced challenges along the way, including the horrendous weather this year.

In our interview, Jeanine said, “We have been affected by the hurricane, because we’re based in North Carolina. We schedule these retreats in many different places, now, but some locations in this part of the country were affected by the hurricane. We’re proud to say that we contacted all of those families who were planning on those retreats we had to cancel—and we rescheduled them to attend other retreats. When families make these plans, we are committed to making sure they get to a retreat. We can’t disappoint them.”


In 2019, the number of retreats will grow from 16 in 2018 to a total of 21. Most retreats have a capacity of 11 families.

“We’re also going to be launching a new kind of fund-raising campaign in which we invite donors to give $1,008,” Jeanine said. “Look for news about that on our website. That amount is the average cost we have to raise to pay for a family of four to attend a retreat. We always find that the local communities hosting these retreats donate a lot of resources to help us out—but then, there’s this average of $1,008 we have to pay for each family. Giving at that level lets you know, as a donor, that you’re making it possible for one more family to come to a retreat.”

Online applications to attend one of the 2019 retreats will open in November. Jeanine’s team also will be launching a new website around that time, along with news of the new appeal for donations.

Get ready to help someone …

GET THE BOOK—You can order the book through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or our Front Edge Publishing Bookstore.

GOT THAT BOOK ALREADY? THEN, PLEASE … Check out the many books we have published to help families coping with cancer in all its forms. Here’s an overview of other inspiring books, written by our Susan Stitt.


READ THESE INSPIRING STORIES—Within the Little Pink website, this “blog” has a whole series of stories about Jeanine’s team and the families Little Pink has served. One of our favorite columns was written by young Spencer Fluharty, who attended a retreat with his family after his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

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