Welcome to October and breast cancer awareness month.
It’s hard to find a person today who has not been impacted in some way by breast cancer. For me, breast cancer became upfront and personal about five or six years ago when my sister was first diagnosed with it. I remember first thinking that it was probably early and she could just get the cancer cut out and then get back to life—a detour in life, but nothing too bad. After more and more news began to come in, I realized that breast cancer is so much bigger than that. In fact, I remember my sister saying several times, “It’s all just so BIG.” And it was.
I was fortunate to be able to take time off from work and be with my sister for several weeks as she recovered from surgery. Having that time together was difficult while also fun, bonding and a Godsend. Here are the first three things I learned. I hope they help you if you should ever be faced with breast cancer in your life. In the next blog post I will share the remaining lessons I learned. I encourage others to share their stories here as well.
1. It takes time to process a “cancer” diagnosis. Finding out you or a loved one has cancer is only the beginning. There will be tests, biopsies, screenings, family history gathering, etc., taking place for several weeks or more. There will be several days or weeks following the initial diagnosis where more information will be coming in regarding the specifics of the diagnosis. It will take time to process each new piece of information. Have a loved one present – or be that loved one — if possible for these appointments. Be patient during this process and do your homework. Gather all the information, ask questions, do your research and offer to discuss all this information with the patient (if you’re the patient—discuss the information with a loved one yourself).
2. The amount of information can be overwhelming. Once all the information is in regarding the diagnosis, the next wave of information will be about the type of treatment to be chosen. The patient will be told about a number of options including radiation, chemo, surgeries, different types of chemo, etc. Each “solution” comes with it’s own risks. It’s very helpful to have a loved one with the patient during these visits to help them process all the information and possible treatment choices. Offer your time if you can.
3. There is no “right” decision. The truth is that there are many different options regarding the treatment of breast cancer and no one can say what’s the best option for someone else. Be there for your loved one and don’t push them into making “your” choice. Help them to think through their own choice.
The biggest eye opener for me was the enormity of everything that the diagnosis of breast cancer entails. I never would have realized this magnitude had I not had a loved one impacted. For those of you who have had loved ones diagnosed with breast cancer or who will experience that in the future, know that it is BIG and can alter how a person thinks, lives their life and how they behave for a while. Don’t judge their responses, decisions or behaviors. Have compassion for how they process this information and be their sounding board.
Challenge: Be a sounding board for your loved one and ask them how you can best support them. Be present in their journey.