**Disclaimer: the following is completely based off of my opinions and experience unless otherwise noted. If you are unsure of anything, always consult with a medical professional. I am not a medical professional of any kind.
October is breast cancer awareness month and sadly I have quite a lot of experience with breast cancer. Due to this, I have decided to post a few cancer-related blog posts this month, beginning with this one.
Before we start, allow me to take this opportunity to remind you to do regular self-examinations and remind all of the women in your life to do the same. It could save a life. Now for the post:
Getting the sad news that someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer is incredibly difficult and gut-wrenching. The news can be very difficult to process at first, and after you may begin to process it, then you most likely are faced with a bunch of mixed emotions and questions. However, you must keep in mind that your reaction is important. The way you take the news can make a huge difference in how your loved one feels. Remember, this is about them and their health and you must put your feelings aside for the time being and be a support system for them. Dealing with my grandmother’s diagnosis was bad but by the time my mom got sick, I knew that I had to put my fear aside and be stronger (at least on the outside) to make her feel better. By the time that one of my best friends got sick, I felt I had a better idea as to how to handle the news and was informed enough on how to handle myself around her. Of course I was heart broken each time a new diagnosis came in but again, the person who truly matters in this situation is the one who is diagnosed. This post is to help others understand how their reactions may impact someone and how to curve their own emotions for the time being in order to help the person who is actually sick feel even a little bit better. Every little bit counts.
1.) Don’t diagnose.
Most likely, the patient will share with you any sort of inklings that they may have that they may feel a lump or may have a feeling that something is wrong. First and foremost, don’t just jump to cancer. Often times, lumps in the breast tissue or most other parts of the body can be benign and require a small procedure to remove. In any case, read up on their side effects and try to be as informed as you can be while remembering that WebMD is not medical advice and is not basis enough for self diagnoses.
2.) Don’t cry.
When and if an actual doctor diagnosis the patient with cancer, understand that no matter how difficult this time may be for you, it is infinitely more difficult for the patient. They are likely already feeling very emotional and though they may not show it – they are scared. I understand emotions are hard to contain but try your best. Don’t just start crying and worrying them even more, they need people around them that are strong and that they can lean on for support, its hard for the patient to see you as that person if you yourself are a blubbering mess. This leads directly into my next point…
3.) Don’t act as if they are dying… they’re not….
Don’t start saying your goodbyes early and don’t start treating them like they are dying. When talking about breast cancer specifically, the 5 year survival rate is 99% and in the US alone, there are roughly 3 million women living with breast cancer.
I completely understand that just hearing those words can set off extreme emotions but unless a doctor has specifically said that the cancer is terminal, it isn’t and being dramatic is only going to make the patient anxious and sicker.
4.) …Unless they are
If the cancer is terminal, your doctors and case-workers will have a plethora of resources available to you. Please make use of them and help not only your sick friend/family member but any of their loved ones as well. For more resources pertaining to terminally ill patients visit cancercare.org, cancer.org or cancersupportcommunity.com among others.
5.) Be informed
Once you know more about the type of cancer, the stage, etc. do some research on your own or with the patient to get a better understanding of what is going on. As mentioned earlier, not all cancer diagnoses are grim, there are plenty of cancers that are not terminal and can be treated with the right plan/medication. Do your research, find out what you’re up against. Don’t get soft, get smart.
I could go on and on about this topic which is so near to my heart but in summation I will repeat what I have been saying throughout this blog post and what is the core message in this post: do not make this about yourself and always keep the feelings of the patient as your top priority. Never make them feel anxious or uncomfortable lest you make them feel even worse off than they already are. Your initial reaction has a lot of weight so don’t turn that weight onto the patient and bring them down with it.
I hope you learned some tips from this post. I will be posting more cancer related posts in the future, however if you have any requests please comment below.
Thanks for reading.