A breast cancer diagnosis can be confusing, overwhelming and scary. Make sure that you build and search for a support community to support you in your journey. The support of others who care about you and your well-being can give you the strength to cope and retain a sense of control during this challenging time.
At Susan G. Komen®, we consider a person a survivor from the moment a breast cancer diagnosis is confirmed. Co-survivors can be family members, spouses or partners, friends, health care providers or colleagues who are there to lend support from diagnosis through treatment and beyond.
Getting the Support You Need
There are three main types of support: informational, emotional and practical. You may need different kinds of support at different times and from different people.
Informational Support provides you with information about breast cancer. This might include finding facts about your type of breast cancer or gathering information about your treatment options. The Komen helpline provides free support services to anyone with questions or concerns about breast cancer: 1-877-GO KOMEN (1-877-465-6636).
Emotional Support looks after your emotional well-being. Emotional supporters listen to you, give you the chance to express your feelings and just be there when you need a friend.
Practical Support helps you with specific tasks. This might include rides to appointments, help with cooking or cleaning or going to the doctor with you to take notes. It may also mean seeking out any short-term financial assistance available.
Building your Support Community
Write down the names of people (co-survivors) who might support you in different ways. Your list may include your partner, children, other family members, friends, support group members, co-workers, clergy, neighbors or even health care providers. Look outside your existing network of support people, too. Have you met someone who has experienced breast cancer that you could reach out to?
Write down what kind of support you would like most from each person on your list. For instance, you may want your doctor to give you informational support, your best friend to give you practical support, your sister to give you emotional support, and your partner to give you all three types of support.
Tell each person exactly what he or she can do to help you and be specific. They can help with laundry, the bills, cleaning, etc. Sometimes all it takes is asking.
Have a “back-up” support person. Although it is true that you are the one who has breast cancer, the special people in your life have also been affected by your illness. Sometimes co-survivors will need to deal with their own feelings before they can support you.
Benefits of Co-Survivor Support
- Reduced anxiety and psychological distress
- Reduced depression and feelings of pain
- Improved mood and/or self-image
- Improved ability to cope
- Improved feelings of control
What Can I Do? What Can I Say?
It doesn’t take time-consuming and heroic gestures to be a good co-survivor. Sometimes being there and listening is all that matters. Here are just a few ideas of what co-survivors can do to help a breast cancer survivor:
- Run errands
- Send a “Thinking of You” card
- Take him/her to an appointment
- Create an online calendar to organize meal deliveries, rides and other tasks
- Bring together family, friends and coworkers to help support and care for your loved one through a caring social network and planner. CaringBridge provides sites where friends and family can stay connected and updated on someone’s health event and leave messages of hope and encouragement. The planner also gives you the power to set a community of support in motion by organizing meals, tasks and other helpful activities.
Advice for the Caregiver
Communicate: Keep communication between you and your loved one open and honest. Understand that he/she will often worry just as much about you as you do about him/her.
Understand: Learn more about the experiences of others diagnosed with breast cancer.
Talk Medicalese: Learn to better communicate with your loved one’s health care team. This can be a big help when you accompany your loved one to appointments.
Talking to Your Children About Your Diagnosis
Each child and each family is unique, and helping children cope with a loved one’s diagnosis can present many challenges.
However you decide to tell your children, be as open and honest as possible no matter how hard it may seem. You decide how much you want to say. Remember that children, just like adults, will fill in wherever you leave gaps. And because children may not know as much as adults, it is more likely that what they fill the gaps with will be wrong.
Encourage your children to talk to you and to ask questions. Giving honest, realistic answers to their questions will help lessen their fears. If you are going to be gone for a few days, if you are getting sick from the treatment or if you are losing your hair or a breast, let your children know why this is happening. Explain anything that changes their daily routine.
It is a good idea to let your children’s teachers know what you are going through — especially for younger children. The teachers may be able to help the children cope if they spend most of the day at school.
Finally, just as your children depend on you, you can depend on them too. They can be, and probably want to be, a source of support for you. They will want to listen to you, hug you, kiss you and spend time with you. Let them.
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