4 Ways to Support a Friend Going Through Breast Cancer (and 1 thing NOT to do)

 

I know, I’m a I'm a bag maker and this is supposed to be about fashion, but Breast cancer awareness month is coming to a close and since I am currently one of the many women being affected by it, it was important to me to say a lil somethin on the matter.  

 

I feel like we’re all pretty aware of breast cancer at this point, but perhaps less experienced on how to handle it if someone you know gets diagnosed.  Since I am still going through the process, I thought I’d take a slightly different approach and share a few things that I found helpful and important during my diagnosis, treatment and recovery. 

 

  1. Let your friend be sad when they need to be. 

When someone learns that they have breast cancer, no matter what stage it’s in or whether or not it’s treatable, they are suddenly dealing with the realization of their mortality. The weight of the breast cancer and the fear of it returning, walking into an unknown world filled with having to make life-changing decisions - there is a constant feeling of doom, a never ending rotation of doctor’s visits and the stress of wondering what is going to be left of your body once this is all said and done.  It’s heavy stuff. Sad stuff. One of the best texts I got from a friend simply said “I’m glad to hear you caught it early, but I’m still really sad for you, sis!” Let your friend feel the weight of it and be a non-judgmental sounding board.  

 

original painting of a woman's figure after mastectomy
A painting I did while coming to terms with my new body

 

2. Resist the urge to downplay the situation and make dismissive statements. 

In my case, my breast cancer was stage 0 Ductal Carcinoma In Situ, meaning it was a very non-aggressive, slow growing cancer that was still confined to my milk ducts and had not yet spread. If a gun was put to my head and I was forced to choose a type of breast cancer to have, it would be that one, nonetheless, I STILL HAD CANCER. It was scary and widespread enough that the best option for me was to remove the breast completely. 

I can’t tell you how many well-meaning “You can always get new ones” comments I heard in response to the news of my mastectomy. I was very aware of how lucky I was without having to be told. The problem was, the well-meaning “at least it’s not worse” type of comments stood in contrast with the grief and fear that I was feeling. I needed space to grieve the loss of the illusion of safety without being told how I should feel. In American culture, It is hard for us not to try to find the silver lining, but much like #1 on this list, sometimes leaning in to the discomfort allows for better understanding and a quicker processing of emotions. For me, I flat out refused to let people dismiss what I was going through. I would thank them for their words and quietly remind myself that yes, this was major, but that, in my case, it would pass. 

 

I feel the need to explain here that you cannot, in fact, just get a new breast. A mastectomy is a removal of the breast, the whole thing, nipple and all. What you are left with after a months-long, painful reconstruction process is a cold hump of numb skin that is thinly covering a hard implant. Sure, it looks like a boob under a shirt, and for that I’m grateful, but be careful not to downplay someone’s loss. I lost a part of my body, a part of my femininity, a part of my motherhood, a part of my sexuality, a part of my beauty. 

Oh, also, don’t talk about how much you hate your boobs as a way of relating. In a few months, you totally can. The conversation can go back to normal, but while she’s still in the middle of dealing with it, just don’t. She would kill for your weird little cancer free boobs. 

Woman in hospital bed after breast cancer mastectomy Me, the morning after my mastectomy 

 

3. Buy them small gifts. 

Yup. Lots of them. Send them pretty flowers, buy them trashy tabloid magazines, get them lots of chocolate and 100% buy them small, comfy pillows that they can use to prop themselves up and make themselves comfortable while they’re sick on their couch or recovering from surgery. Get them 5 different kinds of chapstick and facemasks to pamper themselves with and lots of cozy socks. Get them all the under $10 comforts you can think of because it’s the little things like smooth lips and painted nails that will keep your friend hanging on through the pain until the next day. Then, when you have a Walgreens bag full of goodies, bring it over and offer to binge watch Gossip Girl or an old season of the Housewives with them. Just be there for them and let them know that although you know you can’t take the pain away from the situation, you can provide a temporary bandaid, and not just any bandaid, the cute, fun kind that won’t stay on worth a crap but makes your boo-boo’s look fabulous. 

(P.S. these are not affiliate links, just things I like) 

 

4. Get a group of friends to pitch in for a few freezer meals or a house cleaning. 

These were both things that my friends and community did for our family and it was immensely helpful.  We had a meal train organized and freezer breakfast meals made for us. A very generous friend also paid for us to have our house cleaned. Taking the load of worrying about dirty floors and wiped down counters off of someone who is dealing with breast cancer is a wonderful gift and one she will certainly never forget. 

 

5. Throw a “Ta-ta to your Ta-Ta’s” Party 

One of my favorite memories will always be the farewell party that my friends threw for my boob. It was hilarious and sweet and a way to let off steam and laugh about the whole thing. Everyone wore bras over their shirts while we played “Boobie Bingo” and ate boob shaped cookies and gummy candy under a blanket of balloons made to look like nipples. We aptly cut into a giant boob cake while we laughed and cried. Then, everybody gave me little gifts for my hospital stay and recovery along with a note they each signed. It was just a note on a plain sheet of paper, but I kept it on my dresser and would read it every morning when I got out of bed. It gave me strength.      

 

                          The designer of Elidia the Label with her friends at her Boob's going away party

A few of my favorite pics from my Boob's going away party 

I guess what it all boils down to is that no matter the gesture, big or small, make one. Show up in whatever way you can and let that person know that you are with them on this difficult journey. I never thought I would be dealing with something like this in my thirties, but it was friends, family and community that helped me get through. My journey with breast cancer is far from over and my life is forever changed by it, but there is beauty in my situation too. The beauty for me was that my breast cancer was curable and it did not affect a vital functioning part of my body. Once I was able to properly grieve my new reality, I was able to move past it. I did not lose a child or someone I loved, my pain is only temporary. Yes, I lost a part of myself, but through my grief, I gained perspective and for that, I am eternally grateful. 

 This is dedicated to all the wonderful people who helped, sent gifts, reached out, prayed and so much more. Couldn't have done this without you.

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