As you may know from the copious amounts of pink everywhere, October is breast cancer awareness month. Every year in the United States, close to 270,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer. About a quarter of those individuals are under the age of 45 (and many are young mothers). I am one of those women. Diagnosed at 38, my children were 8 and 4 at the time. I became part of the “pink sisterhood” – a group that no one wants to be a member of even though the members are the kindest, friendliest people.
When a friend or family member receives a diagnosis, it can be a struggle to figure out what to do. You want to offer support, but what do they need? In order to help you all, I asked young survivors to think about the best advice they got, the advice they wish they had received, and what advice they would give now that they are on the other side of the journey. Unfortunately, I had a large pool of people to call upon for their insight, but I need to say thank you to Mindy, Gina, Jen, Sarah and Susan for sharing their thoughts. In fact, I got so much good advice from them that I I can’t possibly fit it all in one post. So for now, I’ll focus on advice for the woman going through this challenging time.
1. This is not the time to be supermom – ASK FOR HELP!
This was a theme that everyone touched upon. I used to joke that I was the cruise director of the ship and all of a sudden I was relieved of duty. Your primary job now is to get well and there are going to be things you cannot do anymore. Friends and family will want to help you and you cannot be shy about reaching out.
2. Be specific when you ask for help.
People do not necessarily know how to help so give them specific tasks. Ask someone to bring over a meal or shuttle your kids to an activity. If a load of laundry needs to be done, somebody will be willing to take care of it for you. You will feel better when you see that your household is not falling apart and it gives people a concrete way to show support.
3. Not everyone is going to “step up.”
When I was sick I was blown away by how many people wanted to help me. However, I was also disappointed that there were friends that abandoned me. They may not have known what to say or they did not want to deal with what I was going through, but rather than trying to reach out, they did nothing. It was hurtful and upset me tremendously at the time. Jen wishes she had known it was OK to let go of friends and OK to feel that loss, but it is better to focus on the many people who care about you.
4. Seek community.
There are lots of organizations out there for breast cancer patients and survivors and some are geared toward young women. My friend Sarah spoke about finding community at your own pace. It is a way to connect with other women going through the same challenges and I know I found it helpful to know that I was not alone.
5. Write down everything.
Chemo brain is no joke. You will not remember your name some days and keeping a pen and pad (or the notes section of your phone) handy will make a huge difference.
6. Figure out the best way to use your limited energy.
One of the biggest challenges that I had when going through treatment was that I wanted to remain relevant and yet it felt like life was going on without me. I wanted to be in charge of my house, make the goody bags for my daughter’s birthday party and do a thousand other things. In truth, some days I had the energy to brush my teeth, take a short walk and read a couple of chapters in a book. If you determine the two or three things that are really important to you, you will focus your energy on those things. Maybe it is taking your kids to their activities. Maybe it is meeting a friend for coffee. Perhaps it is doing a load of laundry (yeah, right). You will feel like you accomplished something and that is good for your well being.
Stay tuned for Advice from the Sisterhood – Part 2: Practical Advice for Friends and Family