I am currently on week seven of 16 chemotherapy treatments for my breast cancer treatment. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness month it seemed an appropriate time to share some of the things that I have found to be extremely helpful during my treatment. I hope that they can serve as inspiration to help you support a friend or family member who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
Firstly, since all cancers are not created equal, I will preface this by giving you some of the specific details in case you have a friend or family member diagnosed with the same type. I was diagnosed with stage III, triple positive, invasive ductal breast cancer in my left breast two months ago. What this means in a nutshell is that I have an extremely positive prognosis after 24 weeks of chemotherapy, surgery (type to be determined based on the chemotherapy results), and five weeks of radiation, in that order.
One way you can support a friend or family member is to make notes about their type of breast cancer, read up and learn more about what it means. You can ask them if it would be helpful to be accompanied to a Dr's appointment or offer to be on the other end of the phone if they want to talk after any appointments. At the beginning of any diagnosis there are quite a lot of steps involving multiple appointments before a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan are outlined. I have a large and supportive family and called my husband and then a family member immediately following each appointment. This really helped me to talk through what I had learned, what it meant and what the next steps were.
Ask if they need a ride to and from any appoinments. Every now and then there is an appointment that might require you to be picked up by someone. This was the case for my first chemotherapy appointment and also when I had a infusion port put in. The only time I broke down in tears is when my nurse asked me who would be picking me up. I wasn't crying because I didn't have a support network to call on I cried because I like to be independent and knowing that I needed to ask for help at this time upset me. I was so appreciative whenever anyone asked if I needed a ride to and from any appointments. I always had it sorted out but the fact that others offered made me realize that if I need the help it is okay to ask and it is just at the end of the phone.
Not all breast cancer will require chemotherapy, and not all chemotherapy causes absolute hair loss, however most do cause hair thinning at a minimum and loss of all body hair at a maximum. Upside is you can stop shaving your legs for a while and the downside is losing your eyebrows and eyelashes! Therefore "the hair issue", as I call it, is often a significant one for anyone going through chemotherapy.
Losing my hair was of course the aspect of this diagnosis that was the most daunting and yet amazingly I have actually found it to be less traumatic than I imagined it would be thanks to a couple of amazing resources, Headcovers.com and Angel Hair Wig Gallery in Raleigh. If you have a friend or family member going through breast cancer chemotherapy treatment, that will cause them to lose their hair, a gift certificate to Headcovers.com or offering to go wig shopping with someone are two extremely thoughtful and useful ways to help.
It is surprising how many different products you need to help you through the process and how being able to talk openly about it with a supportive friend or family member can really help with the transition. My parents had sent me a check for $200 shortly after my diagnosis and that allowed me to go shopping on headcovers.com and have headscarves, sleeping caps, fake eyelashes and eyebrows, all sent to my home ahead of actually needing them. You can literally go from a full head of hair one day to extremely thin hair very quickly so in my experience it is best to be prepared and be fitted for a wig and order headscarves and other accessories before they are needed. I currently have very little hair left on my head and although I bought a great wig thanks to the team at Angel Hair Wig Gallery, it is quite hot and I am reserving it for business events, and have fallen in love with headscarves.
Chemotherapy has come a long way and there are great anti nausea medicines out there that really help to alleviate some of the side effects but it is hard to avoid nausea altogether. I have had an amazing experience with few day to day side effects but every now and then I feel nauseous and even the thought of fixing the kids their school lunch is hard to bear. A dear friend has been dropping off meals every now and then and the timing of Leigh's "meals on wheels" has just been uncanny, the meals have literally come on the days when I could not even think about fixing dinner. So on this front don't ask just deliver a meal that can either be eaten that day or frozen during the process it will come in very handy.
As soon as I received my diagnosis I contacted my friend, Lavanya Chigurupati, who is a trained Healing Touch practitioner. I knew that I really wanted Healing Touch treatment to be a part of my healing process. Healing Touch is a natural, nurturing energy therapy and the hour a week that I spend with Lavanya is so positive, relaxing and empowering that I walk away having forgotten about breast cancer completely. Giving someone a gift certificate for Healing Touch or another complementary holistic treatment will allow them to treat themselves to something that could become a significant part of their overall healing plan.
At the end of the day the greatest way to support a friend or family member going through breast cancer treatment is simply your presence either in person or virtually through a check-in phone call or email. Knowing that you are supported both near and far makes all the difference.