Survival Mode: How to help women fighting breast cancer
During Breast Cancer Awareness Month we see a lot of pink. We see men in pink gloves, and football and baseball jerseys. Companies lighting up their buildings at night with a pink glow and many fundraising events are planned. These are great ways for the community comes together to support these strong women, and help find a cure. While these are all great ways to raise awareness let’s also remember that to those women (and some men too) this is a battle they fight every day, and not simply one month out of the year.
We all have friends and relatives who have battled or who are battling breast cancer. For them, the pink ribbons are merely a reminder about the disease they face every single day. Their perspective is quite different. Once you have this terrible, life-changing, and body-changing disease, you see the effects on a daily basis. When they lose their hair. When they lose a breast. When they lose both breasts. When they are no longer able to have children due to the effects of chemo.
If you do have a friend or family member who is fighting breast cancer, there is not a one-size-fits-all way to support her. However, there are some things you can do that may provide some comfort:
- Be a good listener. Don’t give advice, but just listen to your friend and acknowledge what she’s going through.
- Go with her to as many doctor’s appointment as you can. Your friend may not be able to process what the doctor is saying, so offer to take notes on her behalf.
- Share phone numbers and emails of fellow survivors. Perhaps your friend has just been diagnosed, but you have another friend who is a survivor. Connecting those women may help so they can pick up the phone and have a relatable conversation about what they are going through.
- Distract her. Make her a funny cake before chemo about kicking cancer, give a book to read or a movie to watch during treatment.
- Offer help over and over. Even if they want to be private, at some point, they are going to need help. So don’t stop offering.
- Bring her groceries instead of a meal. Taste buds may change when someone is on chemo, so bringing groceries may be a better option. It would be best if you knew their preferences, so if you have access to their fridge and pantry, take a look and see what they like before shopping.
- Leave her messages. She may not want to talk, but leave a message anyway. She will appreciate the words of encouragement and just knowing that you care.
- Be a taxi for her kids. Moms who are fighting cancer are still selfless when it comes to their children. They want their kids to have a normal life, but that may require help from friends. Offer to take their children to school, piano lessons, sports practice so your friend can rest.
- Have a hair-cutting party. Of course, this depends on the person, but this could be a light-hearted way to cheer your friend on as she begins her journey.
- Pamper her. Buy her a fabulous scarf or blanket, her favorite perfume, or high-end chocolate.
- Send her cards. Emails are good, but who doesn’t love getting good news in the mailbox.
- Don’t expect a thank you note. When taking food, etc, take it over in disposable containers that you don’t need back and tell her that you don’t expect a note of thanks and that you just want to help.
- Don’t tell her how to feel or assume how she feels. Simply ask her how she’s feeling.
- Don’t forget about her. As treatments go along, or ever at the end of treatment, she’ll still need to know that people care and that you’re thinking of her.
- Provide financial support. Cancer is expensive. Medical bills can pile up quickly and leave people with crippling debt. If your friend has set up a GoFundMe page, consider giving her a financial contribution and sharing the link with friends to help pay for those expenses.
For those who are not fighting breast cancer, this is the month when we are supposed to remember to make an appointment for our annual mammogram. But that’s not enough. We should be aware EVERYDAY about our breasts. We should give ourselves breast exams every month. It’s not enough to just get a mammogram every year.
So, let’s all make a promise to mark a date on the calendar every month to perform a breast self-exam. You hormone levels fluctuate each month during your menstrual cycle and this causes changes in breast tissue. The best time to perform a self-exam is usually a few days after your period ends. If you notice any new lumps or texture change, contact your doctor right away.
So wear those pink socks and the hats with the pink ribbons, and be aware of your own breasts and any changes that occur. But let’s also be a friend, cheerleader, listener, and gift-giver to our friends and neighbors who fight to get well everyday.