More than a month and a half after I received my breast cancer diagnosis, I attended a support group for women who had all types of cancer. During the latter part of the session, a breast cancer survivor introduced herself and wanted to find out what brought me to the group. After learning that I was newly diagnosed with breast cancer, she gave me her contact information and offered to talk to me further about resources.
Within a few days, I emailed her, and we were able to talk on the phone a day later. She shared her story with me, outlined the challenges she faced, and provided advice for my next steps.
“Get a Keurig, ” she told me. I almost told her that I was a tea drinker, but I was intrigued by her specific recommendation. I asked her why she suggested a Keurig. Then she explained that people could serve themselves when they visited me. I wouldn’t have to worry about serving them.
Something about her recommendation sat with me in a funny way. I couldn’t put my finger on why. Then it occurred to me how much she had thought about serving other people when she had been the one in dire need during her recovery.
I don’t know if it was pressure she put on herself and/or pressure others put on her, but that made me think about how it is when someone who is usually caring, service-oriented, flexible, and accommodating is the one who ends up needing care. Do the people in their life rise to the occasion?
In my social circles, a strong segment of my social circles has stepped up to support me. People have called in or accompanied me to medical appointments and have served as advocates when I was overwhelmed with the process.
Some people have driven me to or from appointments so I wouldn’t have to rely on public transportation.
Others have talked to me on the phone as I sorted through my different medical options.
A few friends reviewed medical bills with me and gave me advice on how to communicate with health insurance about them.
One friend cleaned my kitchen and bathroom, made my bed, and threw bags of trash in the dumpster as I sorted through my medical bills, explanations of benefits (EOBs), other medical documentation, and mail that accumulated on my desk. It literally took me hours to organize all of them. (Then of course more documents came in the mail days later, and I had to sort through the paperwork all over again.)
Friends are organizing themselves to support me during recovery from surgery on Lotsa Helping Hands.
I have groups of different supporters on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and text messages sending me healing vibes and encouragement.
Friends united for a “love gathering,” or party, to support me prior to my surgery.
I have received care packages. Since my last post about receiving gifts from loved ones, my cousin’s wife sent me a gift bag full of goodies from Just Don’t Send Flowers, which specializes in get well gift baskets. Apparently, cancer is such a large market that there is a Gifts for Cancer Patients section. (It’s fascinating to see the targeted marketing; there are subsections of cancer gifts for women, men, and children. There’s nothing like seeing capitalism benefit from cancer.)
Breast cancer survivors have lent me clothing, mastectomy pillows, and all sorts of tips and tricks for recovering after surgery. That’s when I realized that Just Don’t Send Flowers could diversify its inventory. Its Breast Cancer Care Package for Women offers a tote bag packed with a pashmina, lotion, hand sanitizer, lip balm, queasy drops, and organic ginger tea. Meanwhile, I was on the hunt for drain holders and reacher grabber tools on Amazon.
If you look up “drain holders for after breast surgery” on Amazon as I did, you will see the wide array of options. I typically like pink, but seeing how expensive all of the pink holders were made me resent the higher prices that generally come with this color. The Pink Tax in all its forms is real and pervasive in our economy, and I hate seeing it play out in products for breast cancer patients.
Although I think companies like Just Don’t Send Flowers could benefit from adding them to their cancer gifts section, I don’t understand why hospitals don’t already provide them. Consistently, breast cancer survivors have told me that being careful with their drains, especially in the shower, was a hassle. Why do they have to create their own holder or buy one on their own? They already spend so much on medical bills.
In case you’re curious, my peer mentor from a breast cancer survivor group at my hospital recommended this drain holder to me.
While I don’t think a grabber reacher tool is the responsibility of a hospital, I do think Just Don’t Send Flowers should still add items like this to its gift baskets.
I ended up buying this one on Amazon.
In case anyone is wondering what not to get me, I am well-stocked with candles. I do not know how, but candles are a popular item that people include in care packages. It reminds me of how cole slaw ends up as a side in so many dishes at restaurants despite the fact that I never order it. I find calm in the scents of cinnamon bun, juniper & red ginger, and matcha & bergamot, but I cannot take much else in the candle department.
As you could tell, I’ve been blessed, privileged, and fortunate to have strong support networks around me.
That doesn’t mean it has all been sweet. When you experience a major health issue or life transition of any type, you will find out who can deal and who can’t.
There will be people who feel weird or uncomfortable talking about any type of serious or complex issue if there is no clear right or wrong answer. There will be people who will want to cheer you up, but they won’t know what to do when you won’t smile or laugh easily. There will be people who want to support you, but they will want to do it on their own terms and expect you to work around their schedule rather than ask you what is best for you. It doesn’t make them bad people, but it might mean that they aren’t the people designed to be in your life right now. It’s disappointing, but it’s something you have to acknowledge in order to receive the proper care from your social circles.
I cannot tell you how awkward some people have gotten after finding out that I would get a mastectomy rather than a lumpectomy and radiation as an initial treatment. Trust me. I’m not excited to get a mastectomy, but I am eager to get this cancer out of my body. When people gasp about my upcoming mastectomy, I find myself having to manage their emotions as well as my own.
However, I think people should know that radiation isn’t exactly a cakewalk. I was talking to a breast cancer survivor today, and she mentioned how radiation can cause lung issues as well as heart problems, especially for patients with cancer in the left breast. It’s not as if any of these options is absolutely the “easiest.” They all suck from what I’ve heard.
People with major health issues need all of the care they can get. For the person who is normally providing care to others, this can be challenging because others might be used to seeking support from that person. When a health crisis hits, the script for those relationships has to get flipped, or those relationships will cease to exist. Well, they might exist, but they won’t be in a healthy state.
How do you react when others around you need care? When you seek to provide care, what is your philosophy for serving their needs? Whose agenda are you expecting to take the lead? Is your inclination to teach them or to learn from them?
If you want to provide quality care, you do the best job when you learn and take the lead from the person who is in need. That might be a major shift, especially when you’re providing care to a person who typically gives you care, but these are factors to consider if you want to be an asset to their recovery and healing.