Amanda Clark was dealt a “really shitty hand to play.”
Young and in love, Amanda and her fiancee Joe Clark lived in Orlando, Florida where she worked as a television reporter. But just two months before their wedding, 28-year-old Joe was diagnosed with an aggressive colon cancer. The young couple cancelled their honeymoon for chemotherapy and did the best they could to live their lives as newlyweds. A few years later, Amanda and Joe welcomed Mira Joey into the world.
Eleven months later, at the age of just 31-years-old, Joe lost his battle with cancer, leaving Amanda a widow and a single parent.
“I feel like I was given this really shitty hand to play, but I have some of these skills, and it’s my calling to be a voice for this. I never planned any of this or wanted any of this, but what do you do now?” Amanda says. In the midst of her overwhelming grief, Amanda decided to continue spearheading a project that she and Joe had started years before.
Drawing on her experience in communications and his firsthand experience fighting cancer, Amanda and Joe had started a blog called Cocktails and Chemo.
She jokes that the inspiration comes from the fact that their date nights got replaced with “chemo dates.” The blog chronicled the couple’s journey from diagnosis through treatment. Joe shared about his experience as a patient, and Amanda spoke as a caretaker. The content really resonated – especially with other young couples facing the same challenges. Joe kept on writing through his treatments, after the birth of his daughter, and he even shared the painful news of discovering his cancer had returned. “People followed our whole life and our whole journey,” Amanda said.
When Joe died, Amanda thought, “What do I do now?”
Much of her last three years had been spent as a caretaker, both to her husband and her new daughter. There were still a lot of unanswered questions for Amanda, but one thing was clear: She was going to continue the blog. “I felt this calling,” she said, “As a caregiver, I wanted to help all caregivers because it was a role I knew. I knew how lonely it was and what a thankless job it was.”
And then it grew into something bigger.
The Cocktails and Chemo Foundation started officially in 2015. In addition to the blog, the foundation created beautiful gift baskets for caregivers of cancer patients. The baskets lovingly contained items like candles, fuzzy socks, scarves, lotion, coffee gift cards, and coffee mugs– things that would make the recipient feel special and acknowledged, said Amanda. The caregivers are nominated through the foundation’s website, and sometimes even nominated by the patient for which they are caring.
The gift baskets are just the beginning, however. Amanda – not only the Founder but now also acting CEO – is really excited about a new initiative of the foundation which will allow Cocktails and Chemo to provide financial assistance for childcare for families undergoing chemotherapy treatments. The cost of childcare can be a huge burden for families already facing the building cost of medical treatments during a fight with cancer. Additionally, Amanda has big dreams for the foundation which include growing their local chapters which have now popped up in Chicago and Minneapolis, increasing the amount of childcare grants they offer, creating caretaker retreats in oncology centers across the country, and of course continuing to provide inspiration and camaraderie for other families dealing with cancer and its collateral damage.
Having lived through the death of her own husband, Amanda has some insight into how to support a grieving friend. “You have to say something,” Amanda insists, “Even if that something is ‘I don’t know if I’m going to say the wrong thing, but I am thinking about you all of the time.’” Amanda says to do things without asking, for example dropping off a meal on the front porch. The gesture is important, she says. And although it isn’t necessarily about the financial relief, even families with extra income feel the financial shock of cancer.
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“It’s so healing, to help someone else. It feels so good. It helps keep the memory of my husband Joe alive,” Amanda says about Cocktails and Chemos, “It has given me some focus, and it has kept me busy. Grief can be really heavy if you let it.” The blog was a passion project for Amanda and Joe. She jokes that even when Joe was in hospice, he was overjoyed when Amanda told him the blog had hit the 10K mark for followers. “If I could tell him now we have 22k followers, he would be amazed. He would be pushing me to go bigger and bigger, Amanda says.
It is hard to not feel a whole host of emotions after hearing Amanda and Joe’s story, sadness, grief, but also hope and wonder.
If their journey inspires you to get involved, there are many ways for you to do just that:
- Do you know a caretaker of a cancer patient that needs some love? Nominate them at Cocktails and Chemo’s website.
- Do you live in Indianapolis, Chicago, or Minneapolis? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved with local chapter events.
- Interested in making a financial donation? Visit the Website to donate. The foundation is always in need of monetary support, gift cards, and gift basket items.
- And of course follow Cocktails and Chemo on Facebook and Instagram.
“When you are stuck in your own shitty life, take a step back and do something for someone else,” Amanda says. Her candor about grief and her commitment to turn that grief into a positive force is remarkable.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
As a transplant to the Midwest, Megan Bohrer still got excited by the first snow flurries of the season. Although her husband’s job as a private school administrator brought them to the area, Megan recently moved ‘home’ to Atlanta. And damn, we miss her.
When she isn’t chasing after her three children or putting herself through nursing school, Megan enjoys drinking craft beer, photography, playing soccer, and fantasizing about all of the Pinterest projects she will one day complete.