Any form of cancer is a dreaded life-threatening condition. This holds true even more so with breast cancer, which can affect a woman’s feelings about sexuality, attractiveness, and motherhood leading to depression, social isolation, and loneliness. Diagnosis and an effective treatment plan alone do not aid the complete recovery process. You need a dedicated support system in place, in the form of friends and family, to get you back on your feet.
Little did we know, on noticing things such as the swelling of breasts, nipple retraction, and pain, redness or thickening of the breast skin; that there are the symptoms of breast cancer. Post mammogram examination, the news dawned on us to discover that my eldest sister was suffering from this devastating condition.
To make matters worse, we had waited too long to consult a doctor. She was already in the fourth stage of breast cancer. We couldn’t afford to lose hopes and break down as a family because if we did she might find no strength and confidence to cope with the condition further.
As a first step, the doctor advised undergoing a double mastectomy, with both breasts to be removed via a surgical procedure. We as a family had no choice but to comply with this requirement so that the treatment process could commence. Post-mastectomy, there were a series of chemotherapy sessions that followed, which physically, mentally and emotionally affected her and left her feeling drained.
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“Standing by her side through this entire treatment plan for close to a year, we deeply felt the pain she was suffering. Often, her silence said it all.”
I decided to quit my full-time job and opt for a part-time flexible work arrangement, to stay by her side when she needed me the most. You may not be able to go as far as to give up your job, or any other major commitments you might have, in order to help someone close to you who are suffering from breast cancer. But there are a lot of other things you can do to help your loved one cope:
Help manage anxiety
Coping with a life-threatening condition such as cancer can make the victim feel anxious, irritable, and depressed, resulting in a loss of appetite and sleep. While the treatment plan and cure are entirely dependent on the stage of cancer the patient is diagnosed with, care and attention from family and friends can help ease the patient’s worries about the impact of this condition.
Dealing with depression, loneliness, and social isolation
My sister, who was previously a cheerful soul and a very sociable person, was now a shadow of herself. Mastectomy, and the inability to express the way she felt made her succumb to depression and loneliness. She also started to avoid social gatherings. As a family, we decided to stand by her side and allow her the freedom to express the way she felt. We assured her it was completely okay to let her guard down sometimes and cry, scream, and shout. We wanted her to vent out her frustrations and anger and would listen to her patiently.
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Lend a careful listening ear
Everyone needs a friendly ear now and then, and cancer patients are no exception. They have a lot to say and express, but very little energy. Chemo sessions and medications drain them of the energy they need to be able to function normally. So do lend listen patiently to what they have to say. Be sure to maintain eye contact with the patient while engaging them in the conversation. Do not interrupt when a survivor is pouring her heart out.
Use diversion methods to heal and care
Breast cancer patients spend so much of their time worrying about their condition, and the recovery process, that any diversion will come as a welcome relief to them. In my own case, I made it a point to spend time with my sister on the weekends, just as I used to before. We couldn’t head out to the movies, but we could stream a movie together at home. I could sense that our weekly ‘sibling movie days’ meant a lot to her, as they helped her take her mind off things, if only for a little while.
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If there is someone close to you who’s battling breast cancer now – be it a mother, sister, wife, daughter or friend – please spend time with her. This deadly condition can be overcome with love, courage, and support from your near and dear ones.