My Cancer Journey
Updated: Aug 31
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month! I'm betting every single one of us has been affected by this disease either personally or when a loved one has been diagnosed.
Sometimes it's tough to know how to help- so as a Breast Cancer Survivor myself, I decided to take this opportunity to offer a few practical tips based on my experience:
• Help with nutrition: eating as healthy as I could became more important than ever once I was diagnosed, but recovering from a double mastectomy makes it difficult to do some of the simplest cooking tasks. I was unable to press down on a salad spinner, and even pushing the buttons on a blender for a smoothie was painful. We were so fortunate to have meals brought in from our church, family, & friends- if your friend is recovering they will most definitely appreciate help with meals
• Cleaning help: it was quite awhile after surgery that I was able to do any cleaning that involved "pushing" such as cleaning the bathtub. Friends and family came to the rescue on this one too- and it's a great way to help out when you can't help the family financially.
* Well this is gross...but right after a mastectomy you feel like a bit of a social pariah because you have to wear these "drains" that have to be emptied from the body. I had 7 and was very embarrassed to see anyone. I remember how thankful I was for a specific friend that would make me a smoothie every morning and leave it on the porch on his way to work. Every few days he left soup from his wife too- then would text it was there. It was so very helpful and gave me the privacy I needed at a very embarrassing time to be seen.
• Help with the kiddos: we had friends and family that gave the kids rides to and from school and let them hang out after. I had a lot of concern during the chemo treatments about the good times that my kids would be missing out on... but in an odd twist of fate they had so much fun at one of our friends homes they wanted to go back instead of Disney ha ha. I was so thankful for any attention they received from our loved ones, I was exhausted and slept ALOT- and even when I was awake was not always up to much in addition to a very fuzzy head.
• Humor helps! We had a few people question whether my husband and I truly understood the seriousness of my illness because of our jokes. But the truth is, we couldn't stand to be serious all the time and needed humor to get through it. And we also loved to hear how our friends and family were doing- it seemed sometimes people felt guilty talking about anything but the cancer treatments, but we were often very eager to talk about anything else to get our mind off it.
• The scars are not only physical: I sort of soldiered myself through the the double mastectomy and a year of visits to the chemo lab, 3 months in particular that were just awful (the rest of the year for a targeted drug called Herceptin that eased things up). I thought once treatment was over I would be moving on- but a few months later serious mental and emotional issues kicked in. I had a mild case of PTSD, and had a very hard time- I am so much better now but was in serious danger for awhile. Keep in touch with your cancer survivor friends and encourage them to get help when appropriate. And encourage them to trust & take the advice of their therapist- the dynamics at my job had changed and been triggering the post-cancer PTSD that had been previously getting better and never been medicated until this all happened. The therapist urged me to leave the job. I waited six months and lost relationships, became medicated to get through it, and was once again suicidal. When I finally broke things off was able to completely come off the medication and I finally feel like my whole self again- I wish I'd taken her advice sooner.
• Helping financially: Cancer is expensive, it takes a lot of time, and if they are as sick from the chemo as I was, income will be reduced due to time off work. Gas cards are a huge help in getting back and forth to appointments. Having a bouquet of flowers on the table will really brighten their day. Friends organized fundraisers that helped with medical bills and I still get choked up about how the community came together for me.
• Don't feel bad if you don't get a hug: There are a lot of procedures and surgeries to the chest area in addition to the mastectomy - I remember a friend at the gym feeling awful for trying to give me a hug the day after a procedure I hadn't told anyone about. I instinctively backed away to avoid pain and he felt awful until I explained. Keep in mind they just might not be able to hug you right now- side hugs work sometimes.
• Night owls unite: I've never really been a late night kind of girl- but during treatment my sleep schedule was all over the place, and I discovered that I had some friends and family with a special gift for being there at the odd times of night. My cousin played Words with Friends with me at crazy hours. Another cancer survivor friend had meant it when she said "anytime" and she answered questions and concerns in the middle of the night which meant the world to me. I learned I had a few insomniac friends that were kind enough to see me on Facebook chat in the wee hours and check in.
• If you find a lump or suspect something is wrong- don't wait. I had no family history of breast cancer and tested negative for the BRACHA gene. But although my cancer was caught early stage- it was very aggressive, and we are so thankful we called right away. And get a second opinion- If I'd gone with the first doctor who didn't test me to find out I was HER2 positive I would not be here. A concerned nurse friend insisted on the second opinion and saved my life.
• Encourage them to get in touch with the American Cancer Society. They interviewed me to see how they could best help and gave me a beautiful wig free of charge, gas cards, and some make up that companies donate to help you feel better about how sickly you look in treatment.
• And finally- if you are a woman get checked! Grab your mammogram or- Antidote Wellness Therapies in Trevor offers Thermograms/screenings. The thermogram detects the growth of cancer cells prior to tumor formation, and no radiation or breast compression is involved. It measures inflammation in the body, and provides information on vascular activity in the breast.
I hope this may have given you some ways to help a friend or family member in treatment. Take care, Kathy Schick