Every October thousands of high profile companies launch expensive ad campaigns designed to support “the cure” as part of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Retail shelves are lined with everything from pink mixers to pink toenail polish. Yet, there is a segment of the breast cancer community that doesn’t get this needed attention and support: Breast cancer survivors and their families.
Since most of the focus is on the cure, many newly diagnosed patients (you’re considered a survivor the day you’re diagnosed) are left to make their way through the dangers and side effects of treatment by trial and error. Much of the existing breast cancer literature is technical and internet information is often wrong. Both are lacking in practical everyday help. Even the best oncologists sometimes fail to give patients crucial information needed to successfully get through treatment and resume their lives.
Nearly a quarter of a million newly diagnosed breast cancer patients and their families are thrown into crisis each year. Many of the over two million survivors and their families are still suffering from the aftereffects of a diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer. While there are many breast cancer blogs and websites, few provide the survivorship resources breast cancer families need. As one survivor recently said, “The absolute silence of support is deafening.”
By providing more survivorship resources, perhaps we could reduce the 20% of husbands who leave their wives after they’re diagnosed with breast cancer. At least we might help the numerous children under 10 who must then become their mothers’ primary caregivers. Survivorship information could provide answers to questions you didn’t even know to ask: Did you know that cutting your cuticles and flossing your teeth during chemotherapy could have serious complications? Did you know there are foods and body care products that women should avoid if their breast cancer is fueled by estrogen?
Comparing experiences with other survivors and realizing you are not alone is empowering. While knowledge is power, online breast cancer resources run the gamut between ludicrous and life-saving, so only visit accredited sites you know and trust. Ask your local Komen affiliate for names of support groups in your area. Also look for local yoga, tai chi, meditation or healthy cooking classes. Many cancer treatment facilities offer counseling services to help patients and their families cope. I urge you to take advantage of these services because it’s hard to heal and move forward if you’re rooted in fear and anger.
As you may have guessed, I’m a breast cancer survivor. Six years ago I was diagnosed and since then, I've had 10 breast cancer surgeries and eight rounds of chemotherapy. In addition to being a breast cancer survivor, I know what it's like to be the child of a parent who died of cancer and caregiver to my late husband, who died of cancer. I know what cancer families need. A year ago, I created BreastCancerSisterhood.com. Our mission is to become the leading online resource for all things related to living with and surviving breast cancer. Highlights of this content-rich site include BRENDA'S BLOG, named a Top 10 Breast Cancer Blog by blogs.com and bizymoms.com; Amy's blog for children and teens whose parents have cancer, plus 100 original videos created for breast cancer patients/survivors, husbands/caregivers, and kids.
Breast cancer survivors come in all shapes and sizes. It's a club that doesn’t discriminate against age, race, education or gender. While you may not have had breast cancer, odds are you know someone who’s been diagnosed. So this October, this month of Breast Cancer Awareness, encourage someone who’s battling cancer or has finished treatment to seek support in whatever way works for them. Remind them they are empowered with an innate strength and courage. Tell them to own it; draw on it; make it their own. They are more than their cancer. They, and you, have lives to lead, children to nurture, husbands and families to love and sunsets to watch. Seize every day. Make it your best. Do it deliberately and intentionally.
Brenda Ray Coffee, founder and CEO of the Survivorship Media Network, LLC, is an experienced entrepreneur, journalist/filmmaker, former board member and managing consultant to a publicly held company and breast cancer survivor.