October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is our chance to spread awareness about the disease that affects 1 in 8 women born in the U.S. And though it predominantly affects women, more than 2,500 breast cancer cases in 2018 affect men.
Thanks to the increased awareness over the past years, more women are getting their routine mammograms, which is helping them catch the cancer early. And when detected early, the cancer is typically easier to treat, giving women a much higher survival rate. But this in no way means that the diagnosis — early or not — is easy to deal with. Since breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the U.S., it’s likely you know someone affected by the disease (which stinks!).
And for those of you who do have a friend or family member battling breast cancer, you know how hard it can be to know what to say or do during this trying time. So we gathered some tips and ideas of ways you can support your loved one after diagnosis and throughout treatment and recovery.
A breast cancer diagnosis can send an entire family into a tailspin, and really affects everyone involved. Stress, worry, appointments and caring for the loved one take the wheel, leaving everything else in the back seat. A home-cooked meal — especially one that requires no prep time or extra work — can be a big source of comfort and a big help. Casseroles may seem cliché, but they’re a popular choice for good reason. They heat up nicely and can provide multiple meals from one pan. Baking can also be a therapeutic way to help. A survivor on the Susan B. Komen website said that she and a friend would always bring treats to her chemotherapy sessions as a surprise to the other patients. Both are excellent ways to brighten the day of a patient and can definitely help during the stressful ordeal.
Lend a Helping Hand
For the same reason as above, everyday chores can become tough to accomplish. Offer to pick up kids from school or grab groceries during your next shopping trip. If you have older kids they can also pitch in, helping out by walking the dog or doing yard work. Anything you can take off the family’s plate can be a huge help.
Shower Them With Love
Some survivors mention that friends were constantly giving them uplifting notes or funny cards to let them know they were thinking of them. These little surprises can really brighten a patient’s spirits.
Another local Colorado survivor, Betty Jo, told us about a quilt she received from the local quilting club MiniPatches. “They presented me with this beautiful quilt. The one girlfriend notified each girl and said, ‘make a block, any block, just keep it in the reds and pinks because that’s what she likes.’ And they did! It’s amazing how well it goes together.”
“I took it with me in chemo because it’s cold there in the chemo treatments… it was such a comfort.” Since completing her treatment, Betty Jo has joined the circle, helping to craft quilts for other patients including ones at our care site in Grand Junction, St Mary’s Medical Center.
Betty Jo attributes much of her survival to the prayers and thoughts of all of her loved ones, “I’ve never felt that kind of a thing before. The strength that came… was amazing.” So put your happy thoughts into action through cards, quilts, notes, flowers, balloons — anything you know your loved one will appreciate.
Find Time for Fun
Cancer treatments suck up so much time and energy for those going through it, they often forget what life was like before they became a patient. Little activities like walking around the neighborhood or getting a manicure can help them feel normal again. Plus, it gives you both a chance to catch up on life and spend some quality time together. Even activities like a stay-at-home movie night can help take their minds off of treatment for a few hours.
Go With Them
A cancer patient’s time is consumed by doctor’s visits and treatment appointments. Give their daily caregiver a break and offer to drive them to an appointment or be their chemo buddy. Sitting together in a waiting room or during chemotherapy can really strengthen your bond and make your loved one realize they are definitely not alone in their fight.
When it comes to offering help and support, every patient and family is different. Sometimes breast cancer patients experience a strong aversion to food, so maybe quality time is a better way to show them extra love. Or maybe they aren’t feeling up for a walk. Do what feels right in your gut, but also what feels natural for your relationship. And don’t take offense if they turn down your offers. Everyone heals differently, and just knowing you’re thinking about them can be a big comfort.
And of course, we need to end this Breast Cancer Awareness post with a reminder to get your mammogram! You can find more information about scheduling yours here.