For women like my mom, who was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer in 2012, October is about a lot more than Pumpkin Spice Lattes and cardigan weather.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and along with the fundraisers and advocacy comes a reminder of what you have been through. October calls attention to something you may have forgotten: Because of a diagnosis you received 15 years ago, a year ago or last week, your body will never be the same.
I have been thinking about what my mom went through during almost two years of treatment and my family's experience walking with her during that time. I have been thinking about the support we were offered, about what helped and what hurt, whether intentional or not.
I realize now most people are uncomfortable offering support because they are unsure of the best way to show they care after a breast cancer diagnosis. Sometimes they stay distant because of their discomfort. Sometimes they simply don't understand the gravity of the circumstances and fail to respond in a compassionate or sensitive manner. There are specific ways you can love on someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer and the family members grieving their diagnosis alongside them. Here are 8 ways to show you care.
1. Show up
During breast cancer treatment, there is a lot of time spent in waiting rooms and doctor's offices. Offer to wait with family members during procedures and to sit in waiting rooms with the patient before appointments.
2. Drive to and from appointments
After treatment, some people do not feel comfortable driving themselves home or they may simply want company. Offer to drive them to and from appointments and help them get settled in at home before leaving.
When you are sick or you are close to someone with cancer, it is really important to hear from the people who love you how sorry they are about your diagnosis. What isn't helpful, however, is hearing how Aunt Susan puked all over her car after treatment or how they thought your friend from work was better but then there were spots on her lungs.
4. Keep checking in
It is the people who keep showing up and keep sending cards ... who make the biggest impression.
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, everyone shows up in the beginning. But it is the people who keep showing up and keep sending cards six months, 12 months and two year later who make the biggest impression.
5. Send food
Frozen food. The side effects of chemotherapy can feel like the very worst morning sickness, plus some. Because of this, sometimes sending ready-to-eat food isn't the best choice. Frozen meals, however, really come in handy when food starts sounding good again.
6. Housework, babysitting and errands
If the person diagnosed typically holds the responsibility of managing the home, things will quickly start to fall through the cracks once their treatment begins. Offer to watch young children on the days directly following treatment, take over grocery shopping or pitch in with housework whenever possible.
7. Bring the fun to her
Treatment really seems to last forever, and sometimes the effects of treatment make it difficult to find ways to enjoy life. Offer to come by with a movie, card game or another friend. And don't take it personally if the answer is "I don't feel up for company."
"Let me know if you need anything" is a trite offer and places all of the responsibility on the person in treatment. Own the responsibility of helping out with direct offers and open-ended questions. Try "How can I help you this week?" "What sounds good to eat right now?" or "Can I come keep you company on Friday?"