Saturday, October 4, 2014

10 Things You Can Do for Breast Cancer Victims/Survivors

Don't Pink for me... In other words, don't purchase commercialized pink items for me as a breast cancer survivor. Here's a list of things that will really make a difference for breast (and all cancer and/or disease) victims. The reason I know how these things help is that is that I had wonderful people go above and beyond for me during my journey. 

1. Pray for us. It sounds so simple. Almost like a cop-out. Unless you're the person who experience a miracle due only to prayer. Unless you're the person who struggles daily to put a good 'face' on, and feels lifted up by prayer. Pray. Pray daily. Pray by name. Pray in general. Pray for a cure. Just PRAY!

2. Tell us you're thinking of us. Again, it sounds so simple. Maybe you're not a spiritual person. However, those of us that are believe that your thoughts can be 'read' by God. So if you keep us in your thoughts, God can lift us up out of our struggle. Just knowing that someone cares is enough to continue the struggle. 

3. Visit us. Another simplistic request, but one that makes so much of a difference. Even in this day and age, some people seem to think cancer is contagious. It's not Ebola, but it can be just as deadly and just as terrible. However, you cannot 'catch' cancer from visiting someone with cancer. Many cancer patients are so tired from treatments, that their daily/weekly (or whatever frequency) doctors appointments are draining. It's easy to feel as if the only thing you are doing is fighting your disease, but the fighting is killing you as much as the disease. Yet, when someone cares enough to come by and visit, it, often even the sickest patient can cheer up (even if only on the 'inside') because they know someone cares. 

4. Bring us a meal or snack. Drop it off by a patient's home or even the cancer center where they get treatments or go for check-ups. If you aren't sure what would be a good things to bring, call the cancer center to ask. Many cancer centers keep snacks in the chemo rooms - cookies, hard candies, crackers, etc. Call to ask what seems to be best tolerated and bring it by. If you know a patient (or know of a patient) call them or someone close to them to ask what their preferences and tolerances. It doesn't have to be home-made or elaborate, just offering is best.

5. Send a card or note to us. This is another simple thing that, in our digital age, is often forgotten. Receiving mail just seems to be a pleasure to most people (good stuff, not junk ;-). A get-well card or a thoughtfully penned note can lift the patient's day. Additionally, if they keep them (I've kept most of mine), even years later, they can feel the love and care from a simple note. Trust me, it's the best thing on a bad day. 

6. Offer us some financial assistance. Cancer treatment is expensive - even with good insurance coverage. If the patient (or care-giver) works outside the home, there a many lost days of work and extra expenses that drain an already decreased pay-check. Surprise cash is always a day brightener. Anonymous cash, gift cards, etc can mean a patient has something to look forward to using. Sometimes, you may even be the reason the patient can afford to go to their next appointment. It doesn't have to be a large sum, even $5 can make a person feel like they're rich. 

7. Offer to drive us to an appointment. If the patient is comfortable, you could even offer to go into their appointment with them. Many cancer centers request, almost demand, that all patients have a support person with them for all appointments, tests, and treatments. Not only is this good for when the patient feels ill or gets bad news, it is also good for more than one set of ears to hear what is discussed. You'd be amazed by the information given to patients who aren't necessarily in the frame of mind to listen and remember. Chemo-brain is a true disorder that affects some people's memory during and even long-term after chemotherapy. Even if a person with chemo-brain repeats the information given to them at the doctor's office, they may not remember it 30 minutes later. Also, we all seem to catch just a little bit different drift during the same conversations. Sometimes what you hear is more important than what the patient will hear. 

8. Offer child-care to us. It's difficult to find a good and trusted babysitter these days. However, it seems more and more young people with young families are being struck by this disease. It may be do-able to bring youngsters to appointments and treatments, but for an already sick and tired person, the youngsters can be the straw that broke the camel's back. Plus, cancer treatments and appointments never seem to be the quick in-and-out visits you hope for. Doctors are called away, they order more tests, the patient feels worse and has to rest, etc. 

9. Offer a service to us. It can be a house-cleaning, an oil change, a manicure, a facial, etc. Cancer patients are people too, but often the treatments make them tired, ill, and just run-down. It's easy to tell someone they look great when they're bald from chemo and retaining fluid from steroids, but few of us believe you. We know we look different and feel different - most often for the worse. One of the best programs I attended as a patient was the local ACS's 'Look Good, Feel Better' evening. As a non-girly-girl, I almost skipped it, but I was feeling ugly - being bald and pregnant... I still use tricks given to me that evening to do my make-up when I'm sick, tired, and even just going out on the town. 

10. Participate in a fund-raiser for us. Many cancer patients need extra money in order to receive treatment. Friends, relatives, and even strangers often organize fund-raisers to generate financial support and to serve as a reminder to the patient that people care. Some people sell barbecue (we're big on BBQ here in KY), some have a fair-type festival (I did & it was fabulous), others sell raffle tickets, t-shirts, whatever. Offer to lend a hand organizing donations, selling whatever needs selling, and/or buy or donate to the cause. It may just be a $5 do-dad for you, but it ends up supporting the patient and family when combined with others. 

While I was also deeply touched by people walking in the walk-a-thon in my name, or the t-shirts with the provocative slogans supporting breast health, the things on my list made the biggest impact on my life as a patient. I still wear some of those t-shirts and I still feel loved thinking someone walked in my name, the things that truly helped me get through my journey are enumerated in my list. 

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My Chemo-Jane hair-style

My Chemo-Jane hair-style
I just had to have my mom buzz my hair because it was falling out so badly.

Pre-op wearing my hand-crocheted cap with my prayer shawl.

Pre-op wearing my hand-crocheted cap with my prayer shawl.
My loving husband is watching me distract myself with a game on his iPhone.

2 days after my BMX w/ 100ccs in the TEs

2 days after my BMX w/ 100ccs in the TEs
I even have a fashionable belt to hold up my drains.

3 weeks post-op w/ 400ccs in each TE

3 weeks post-op w/ 400ccs in each TE
The smile is fake because the TEs were irritating!