I always thought I was good with checking my breasts; I routinely did it.
A few years ago, on November 28, 2013, my mother called to let me know that she had found on lump on her breast and, with that finding, she made my sister and I promise her that we would check ours too. Shortly after this, following a long day of working in the garden, I hopped in the shower and remembered this promise. As I felt around my breasts – I found something. Something that hadn’t been there before.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer on December 12, 2013 – the day before I turned 48. As I went through my breast cancer journey, my numerous doctor and surgeon visits, I started to rely on the strength of my friends. While I had some great friends – some who supported me along the way – some others struggled with my journey. It’s not easy to see a friend go through cancer – some people just don’t know how to cope – so I want to share some tips for anyone looking for the best ways to support a friend going through breast cancer.
A cancer patient will never expect you to have all the answers or to say the perfect thing. We’ve heard the whole “you’ll beat this!” and honestly, I’ve been told I’m every synonym of ‘strong’ and ‘brave’ you can imagine. I don’t need to hear that I’m strong, or brave, or to stay positive. Because, you know what? Cancer sucks – and it’s okay to acknowledge that. There are a lot of decisions that need to be made along the cancer journey, and cancer patients often need a sounding board to hear them out. We know you’re not a cancer expert and we don’t need you to have the answers, we just want you to listen, as a friend.
2_Check in on their family.
Cancer doesn’t involve just one single person; it’s as challenging for loved ones as it is for the individual going through it. I’ve personally compared this idea to a train – the person who has cancer is inside the train, and everyone else is on the outside. As the train goes through tunnels of darkness and strife along the way, those on the outside are affected too. It can hit them like a ton of bricks; they’ll be bumped, banged, and holding on for their dear life. If you want to support your friend, consider your friend’s loved ones – their father, mother, partner, son, daughter, sister etc. – and ask how they’re doing. They need emotional support too.
Cancer doesn’t involve just one single person; it’s as challenging for loved ones as it is for the individual going through it.
During parts of my journey, some of my friends really struggled; they found it easier to host a fundraising event for me than to actually come and see me. We understand that cancer can be confronting… we’re the ones with it. While we’re appreciative of those fundraising efforts, know that we appreciate in-person support too. We need it. Cancer is scary for the both of us, so please don’t shy away.
4_Don’t exhaust Google.
We know you want to help, but we don’t need you to jump onto Google and find recommended diets or cures for cancer. Trust me – we’ve already done this. While there are thousands of other men and women have experienced breast cancer – we don’t want you to compare them to us. You might have read about how a green-juice-a-day helped some woman cure her cancer, but may be your friend doesn’t need that… may they just want a slice of pizza on a Friday night. Remember that this is your friend’s journey, so comparing their experience with others might not always help.
Don’t worry that you are going to say the wrong thing, or have nothing to say at all. You were our friend before breast cancer, and you’ll be our friend after it. We love you for you, and the sort of friendship we have is why we’re friends to begin with. So, don’t try to change – just be you and the kind of friend you’ve always been.
Friends get us through this journey, and we will always love you for that.
Annette took part in Pink Hope and AirXpanders’ ‘Candid Conversations’ collaboration to open a dialogue about life after breast cancer. Watch Annette talk about her sense of body image and how it changed after her mastectomy below.