October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a time to remember, support and celebrate those who have fought or are currently battling breast cancer.
Caregivers serve an important role during such a critical time. Their presence contributes to how the patient deals with the illness.
Most people are not trained to be a caregiver; it is a role you take on when someone you love is diagnosed. It can be common for caregivers to feel nervous about properly supporting a person when they are shocked, saddened or have to readjust their daily schedule to care for someone.
The American Cancer Society provides a caregiver resource guide to help a family member, friend or loved one during the process know how to understand the person they’re caring for and skills for caring for that person.
Common responses from a patient
A wave of emotions flow through a person when a doctor calls them in for a consult and tells them that test results show the appearance of cancer cells. A patient can experience a range of feelings from anger, fear, blaming themselves or even being passive.
A breast cancer survivor who requested to remain anonymous, was diagnosed with the disease in October 2007 after an annual mammogram.
“Of course, I was sad but I didn’t cry about it,” she said. “I already experienced breast cancer with three of my sisters having it before me, so I just asked the Lord to give me the wisdom to go through it.”
Even if your loved one seems to handle their emotions well during the process, it is still great to listen carefully to their feelings, encourage them to continue living life as normally as possible and try not to let your fears influence their feelings.
What a caregiver can do during the process
“I remember taking one of my sisters to all of her appointments when she was battling cancer,” the breast cancer survivor said. “So, she wouldn’t feel alone during that time, I made sure I took off to be at her appointments with her. Since I had a lumpectomy [a surgery to remove cancerous breast tissue], my niece stayed with me to care for me.”
You can simply drive your loved one to their treatments to show your support. You can run errands and get groceries for them. Surprising them with a gift that is uplifting or thoughtful may be the encouragement they need to persevere.
“My best friend gifted me wall decor with encouraging words after beating breast cancer which I still have today,” she said. “When I look up at it, it reminds me of the strength I have for being a survivor.”
The survivor credits her strong faith and optimistic character for beating the illness.
How to communicate with your loved one
When talking to your loved one, try not to be insensitive with your responses and reactions. Be particular with your words. When you don’t know what to say, it’s best to say nothing at all until you find the right words. Understand that it’s OK to not know what to do and openly communicate that with your loved one.
The breast cancer survivor said, “I’m praying for you,” and “I’m sorry you’re going through this” were responses she received well from others after sharing the news of her illness. She said it’s best to be sincere when letting a person know you’re there for them and let your love shine through.
If they aren’t as vocal about their symptoms or feelings, sit down with them and be gentle with getting information from them. Remind that person that they are important to you and use “we” to let them know they are not alone.
Tallahassee Memorial Hospital offers assistance with finding resources and getting support. All navigator services are free to patients and only a phone call away at (850) 431-4226.