We’ve all read stories of someone who has breast cancer and is lucky enough to have an complete team of supporters rally around them, equipped with pink shirts, food chains and charity fundraisers in their name.
It’s a great thing to see, but what if you have breast cancer and don’t have that kind of sustain? How do you get by the hardest fight of your life if it’s just you?
“You really don’t get the sustain you need until you find people who have gone by almost the exact issues and treatment as you are going by,” said Ann Burton, a 58-year-old breast cancer patient from Aurora, Colorado.
Paula Schorle has Stage Three Triple Negative Breast Cancer and has endured chemotherapy, radiation and a double mastectomy. She said her husband has been incredibly supportive, but the 46-year-old admits her sustain system isn’t very big and she feels alone.
“I am from Ireland and other than my doctors at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, I don’t really know many people,” said the resident of Marshfield, Massachusetts. “I work in the insurance field so I am kept pretty busy by the year and I really only took time off after my surgery.”
Breast cancer is a lonely road that no one should have to suffer alone.
– Stock Photos
Schorle is struggling emotionally with accepting the loss of her breasts and really needed someone to talk to. “I walked down the freezer aisle in my local grocery store and realized that I truly missed my nipples poking by a top when they get cold,” she said. “It really upset me, but nobody talks to you about that side of cancer.”
During her radiation treatments, she met a fellow patient who told her about a Facebook group for women with breast cancer. “I had tried an in-person sustain group, but it wasn’t for me,” she said. Schorle has since corresponded with other breast cancer patients and now she shares and posts in the group.
“Cancer is a lonely road that no one should have to suffer,” she said.
It took Luanne Riley several months to wrap her head about her breast cancer diagnosis, but she’s happy she has a strong network of church, friends and family who are always offering help. She understands not all patients are as fortunate as she is.
“I know most cancer centers have a nurse navigator or social worker to help people connect to social sets that are obtainable,” said Riley, who lives in New Johnsonville, Tennessee.
Riley has also turned to Facebook groups for breast cancer patients for emotional and spiritual sustain. “There are also community and discussion boards on Breastcancer.org that I found valuable,” she said. “Make connections and build a network, already if you haven’t had it before.”
Find a strong network of friends and family who are always offering help.
When Donna, who asked that her last name not be used, was diagnosed, she met with a social worker at her oncology center. “They started a Young Survivors sustain group which I was a part of for a year,” she said. “There was also a program for our family to go together. We had dinner together, then the adults met with a social worker and a nurse, and the kids met with a social worker and a nurse. I also turned to books written by survivors, journaled, read the Bible and listened to music for comfort.”
Speaking of books, Cat Gwynn was diagnosed with breast cancer and her family wasn’t there for her, but her friends were. She already wrote “10-Mile Radius: Reframing Life on the Path by Cancer” (scarce Bird Books, November 2017), a photo memoir of how she dealt with her own cancer. Reading about what others have gone by can often be supportive.
Sometimes, you’ll find sustain in the most doubtful places. Last year, 52-year-old Lisa Maskara was diagnosed with stage four metastatic breast cancer. She stopped working to undergo months of chemotherapy and her sustain course of action was huge; her family, friends and community hosted fundraisers, made dinners and helped however she needed it. “I also reconnected with my local high school class of 1984 online,” she says.
Looking back, the only person missing from the early months of her fight was her best friend. “She was the one person I thought would’ve been there for me since the beginning, but wasn’t,” says Maskara, a Yonkers, New York resident and mother of two grown children. “She just didn’t know how to course of action it all.” It took a few months, but Maskara says her best friend has since come around and been by her side ever since.
Sometimes you can find sustain in doubtful places.
Unfortunately, during my own breast cancer battle, I was surprised to find out some so-called good friends and already some close family members, who I thought would be by my side throughout the hardest fight of my life, would never already show up and one of them only lived 20 minutes away from me!
They never stopped by to see me, bring me food, help with my lawn or already give me a hug. So I learned to “expect the unexpected.” Instead, I found sustain from my writer friends who made me comforters and mailed me a bunch of surprises. They checked in daily, sent funny videos to cheer me up and called me when they sensed things were tough. I wouldn’t have made it by without them.
I also reconnected with a childhood friend who I missed dearly and she visited me and sat with me during chemo treatments. While some patients might be afraid to tell people what they are going by, it’s important to speak up. You’ll need help and sustain by the rough times.
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