The minute I hit send on an email to my closest girlfriends letting them know I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, I was met with a flood of responses in my inbox. “What can I do?” “How can I help?” “What do you need?”
As I was about 12 hours into my diagnosis, I had no idea what I needed other than a really strong cocktail. Immediately following a breast cancer diagnosis, people find themselves in this new territory. We know there are doctors who need to be found, surgeries that will need to be scheduled, but when it comes to support, it is more of a gray area with family and friends.
Everyone wants to help, but how can they? The inner circle will want to jump into action, but that doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. Here are a few things to do — and to avoid — in order to support someone who’s recently been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Since 1 in 8 women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in her lifetime, chances are you already know someone who has been diagnosed. Don’t regale your recently diagnosed friend with that story. “Oh, my aunt/grandmother/third cousin removed had breast cancer. She’s dead now.”
A breast cancer diagnosis is like a snowflake. They are all different. While you may want to relate to your friend or relative, the probability is you will make them feel worse. Before you launch into your cancer history, get the facts about your friend’s diagnosis. Have them tell you their story before you tell them about that coworker’s husband that you never knew that was in treatment for a year.
Many want to drop whatever it is they’re doing to help someone recently diagnosed, and that’s wonderful, but before you hop in your car, why not ask them what it is they need? It's possible they might not know, but just the gesture of saying you’re available to go with them to doctor's' appointments or to sit with them during one of their chemo treatments would be a great way to show your support without being over-intrusive.
The first thing I was told when I was diagnosed was, “Get off Google,” and it was the best advice I was given. The internet is a mess of stories about breast cancer patients who were cured by prayer, by eating kale, by meditating. Most of these are bullshit. Do not send these stories to your friend or relative. They're probably already working with a specialist; let the pros handle this one.
Most of what we know about breast cancer is what we see on TV or again, what we read online. A lot of it isn’t necessarily true or it’s true, but doesn’t pertain to your friend/family member’s current diagnosis. It’s OK to ask the specifics about their diagnosis and consult an oncologist independently. Your friend will appreciate that you took the time to understand the nuances of their diagnosis and treatment and it will allow you to better understand what support they may need.
Bottom line is you don’t know that and the truth of the matter is everything will not be fine. Everything will be difficult. Everything will be a challenge. Some days will be better than others, and the probability that your loved one will emerge victorious is probable. But until they get the all-clear from a medical professional, keep the definiteness to yourself. Instead, be present, be positive within reason, be accommodating and most important, be the ear they’ll need while fighting.
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