Chances are you’ve heard one of these statistics before: “Every 2 minutes, a woman in the US is diagnosed with breast cancer” or that “one in eight women in the US will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.” While those statistics may shock and resonate because it is so common to be close to or know someone who has fought breast cancer, the stats hit close to home when the woman is your mom.
While Facebook posts urged us to put 2016 behind us and start fresh, four days into 2017 I found myself wishing I could go back.
On January 4th my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Five days later she found out it was Stage Two metaplastic breast cancer. By January 18th she was having a bilateral mastectomy. All the while, we were 500 miles apart.
I have not endured the journey she has, it has been an unwelcomed journey for all. Now that her treatments have stopped, the prognosis is looking good, and she is in more of a “maintenance mode”, I’ve realized that I’ve coped with her experience very differently from her husband, her sister, her friends- you get the point. I’m her daughter, it is still difficult to process her brave journey. I’ve was fortunate enough to communicate with my mom during her fight.
Everyone handles it differently and there is no right or wrong way
First and foremost this needs to be said – there is no wrong way to do it. Being there to hold a hand or sending well-wishes is what your loved one needs. They are probably scared and if you are the child watching your parent, they are likely trying very hard to be strong for you. While there are more suggestions below there’s a chance they could do nothing for you, or there’s a chance that one of these methods could be exactly the outlet you need. What’s most important is that you are patient and do what’s right for you and your loved one.
Support, Support, Support
Although it’s maddening to think about how common cancer is, the facts remain, it is. Because of that, there are a lot of support groups. My first line of defense? Three of my friends who have been through similar experiences with their moms. Other options? Ask the hospital or your insurance company about caretaker support groups. If there isn’t one in the surrounding area, go to Facebook or look into one of these.
Help me, help you
As a caretaker, you can look for organizations to help support your loved one during their journey. My mom was introduced to an organization that drops off premade meals, invited to an event where they teach patients how to do makeup and draws on eyebrows, and while persuaded, was told to sign up for an organization that comes by and cleans the house. If you’re feeling helpless and looking for ways to help, give this a shot.
Maintain or pick up a hobby
Before the diagnosis, were you reading for at least 20 minutes a night? Going for a daily walk? While you might want to be there for your loved one every second of the day, there is something to be said for self-care, normalcy, and routine. As difficult as it might be, you still need to take care of you. There’s a reason they tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first when you’re riding an airplane
Peace of mind
In the event you are related to the one diagnosed with breast cancer, consider talking to your loved one and their (and/or your) physician about your level of risk. Is it time for you to get a mammogram? If you’re a woman over 40 the service is covered at 100% as a part of your Blue Cross NC preventive care benefits. Maybe you’re considering the BRCA test? Blue Cross NC covers the test if you meet a certain risk threshold. Learn more here. Knowing your level of risk could help you manage your response.
Breast cancer is scary. So are the many other reasons people find themselves as a caretaker. Sometimes the stories related to a diagnosis can take you to a dark place. While I am not a proponent of “ignorance is bliss,” I’ve started to read a story online and stopped many times. For me, positive thinking and gratitude have paid off, tenfold.