In the spirit of breast cancer awareness month, Lori asked me to share my thoughts about breast cancer from the point of view of being a family member of a loved one who has had diagnosis of the disease.
Many of you know that I’ve been advocating and raising money for a cure for breast cancer for almost 20 years. In 1996, my mom was diagnosed for the first time, and a few years later again. I’ll fast forward to tell you that she is STILL my biggest champion, my biggest inspiration, and my very amazing and very alive mom – cancer in remission for over 15 years.
We all know somebody who has been touched by breast cancer. Many of our AFWA sisters have fought the fight. And many more of us have family members and close friends who have been diagnosed with this disease. So, what can you do when someone you love hears the words “you have breast cancer”? There is obviously no blueprint, as the emotions from hearing those words will vary from person to person. But, I know that for me, hearing my mom’s diagnosis, I went through a range of emotions – sadness, helplessness, frustration, anger – and the other hand, love, empathy, and the desire to do everything in my personal power to help! Still today, after almost 20 years, when I see pictures of my mom and me together at the Strides walks, many of those same feelings still quickly break to the surface. Here are some of my suggestions for navigating the difficult times after a cancer diagnosis:
- Be there for your loved one when she wants to talk. And back away sometimes when she doesn’t. Diagnosis of any health issue is very personal – and breast cancer is similar. Sometimes patients want to share their feelings, and sometimes not. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to hold her hand, put a loving arm around her and enjoy the silence.
- Educate yourself. Read up on what your loved one may be going through. You likely won’t become an expert overnight, but it helps to understand what may be going on in her body, the options of treatments, and next steps, etc. that may be upcoming. If it makes sense for you to accompany her to doctor’s appointments, it’s helpful to take notes and jot down questions beforehand. There’s so much emotion going on for her that she may not remember everything that’s said during appointments.
- Donate money. Cancer research in the United States is still funded mostly by private donations from companies and private citizens. These donations help fund critical clinical studies and are leading to better early diagnosis and longer survival rates. Money raised also helps with patient services – such as things like “Look Good, Feel Better” a free program offered by the American Cancer Society that helps women adjust to life after chemo. Volunteers show patients how to wear wigs and bandanas and how to apply makeup after losing eyelashes and eyebrows. Sure, it’s about awareness. But awareness needs to lead to money – so that we can get closer and closer to a cure. Funding is critical.
- Donate time. There are plenty of places across the country where you can help. Help put together a walk. Help patients by driving them to treatments. Help by being an advocate.
- Become an advocate for awareness. This may happen well after your loved one has been through treatments. Or, it may happen right away. When my mom was diagnosed, she was the first person I had really known with breast cancer. I had probably, in my peripheral view, been aware of walks or runs that raised money in the past. It took me over a year after my mom’s diagnosis to become involved in advocacy, but when I did, I went all in.
Again, these are just some of my perspectives. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. This is incredibly personal. But I hope that if you ever hear those words, you know that you are not alone. Support and love is out there.
Wait – 2 more really important things before I go….
- Remember that early detection saves lives. Talk to your doctor about mammograms and determine how often (or how early) is right for you. Do self-breast exams and make note of anything that doesn’t feel right to you. You know your body better than anyone else.
- If you want to do one thing today to help – make a donation! You can support my Making Strides against Breast Cancer campaign, here. Or donate, to another fundraiser of your choice. This year marks my 19th year of participating in Making Strides against Breast Cancer. My family, friends, colleagues and AFWA sisters have helped me to raise almost $200,000 during that time. This year, with your help, I will go over $200,000 raised since 1998. I’m continually overwhelmed at the support I get from people who are willing to open their wallets year after year so that we can dedicate money to research, patient services and education. Having watched the progress made in treatments during these 20 years, I can honestly say that the money we’ve raised has helped to make a difference. You never know who you’ll be helping with a donation!