If you are a football fan you may have noticed that your favorite players were sporting flashes of pink. Pink shoes, pink gloves, pink arm bands and pink towels. Every October is breast cancer awareness month. It is also a time where people post short comments on Facebook and if you respond they demand that you also post some short innocuous comments to get your friends to comment and it spreads like a virus. Sure it is fun and harmless breast cancer is something that needs awareness. I have been quite aware of breast cancer on a daily basis since my wife was diagnosed 3 years ago. She is a survivor and I think breast cancer awareness should be more than pink items on a football players and Facebook games for 31 days out of the year.
Life is not fair, and if you or your loved one is handed a backstage pass to the “Life is Not Fair” world tour that is performing in your home and life by your doctor there is a range of emotions. First, scream, cry, throw a fit, throw some plates, break things if you need to, also have that triple chocolate explosion for dinner. Jonette was mortified when diagnosed, at the end of the fear, crying, and breaking things phase her second reaction was “Nobody must know.” It is a justifiable thought, on the surface. If you have been diagnosed soon you will learn that there is a vast team of people standing by ready to help wage the upcoming battle. If your loved one was diagnosed, let them cry, let them rage, be there for them. It will be uncomfortable but you were also handed a back stage pass and you will take that journey alongside the one you love.
The backstage pass is not transferable, you can’t hand it to someone else. So what do you do with it? Well you share it.
This is the cliff notes version of one couple’s experiences at the Life is Not Fair world tour sponsored by breast cancer.
Step one, speak up. Ask your doctor, ask your friends, for the best oncologist in your area. It will not take long for a name or if you are lucky a handful of names to rise to the top of the list. Contact the chosen oncologist. Your oncologist will be your coach, your general, your cheer leader through the fight. The oncologist job is to not only diagnose but also put together and arrange the team of specialists, surgeons, and dieticians that will fight alongside you. A good oncologist will plan and schedule everything that will need to be accomplished for the next year or so. If your loved one is fighting this fight stand by them, take them to the first meeting and every subsequent appointment. Your next best friend is a recorder of some type. Every meeting with the oncologist, doctors, surgeons will come with massive amounts of information. It is perfectly ok to tape every encounter and good healthcare professionals will encourage you to tape them. At the same time start a binder put every bill, every correspondence into that binder, when that first binder fills up, start a second. Arrange them by date and type. Help your loved one by recording and organizing the massive rainforest killing mountain of paperwork that will be flooding into your life.
Step 2, trust. Trust your oncologist, trust your doctors. This is no time to rail against the Cancer Industry. Average survivor rates of breast cancer is between 80 to 90% so if caught early the odds are actually in your favor and the reason for that is the dedicated people working to combat the disease. The attack will include some or all of the following, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, diet and medication adjustments, also prayer and or belief. If your cancer is not aggressively treated with ALL of what is listed your chances of survival are pretty much nil. I am not going to lie to you surgery, chemo and radiation suck, but all of it together are better than the alternative. Diet, medication adjustments, and prayer will help make the pervious tools just a bit more bearable.
As a cancer patient follow the course set out by your oncologist.
If you are spouse, family member, or friend your job is to provide support. Do this by standing strong with your loved one. Provide transportation to any appointments or support groups. During chemo stay with your loved one, provide support, love, and encouragement. Between appointments and infusions, cook meals, clean house, do yardwork, watch and care for the children the patient will need all of their time and energy to actively fight the cancer. Any tasks or responsibilities that you can take off their shoulders will be greatly appreciated. Don’t ask, offer, and if you need to INSIST on providing as much help as possible. The other job is to listen with compassion and understanding.
No one survives a cancer diagnosis alone. Take advantage of the system, it is there to save you. Access and use support groups if necessary. As a side note Jonette hated the cancer support groups and refused to go, even in this I supported her decision. There are many groups and foundations that can assist with paying for medications and treatment. Google them and use them if you need. There are tens of thousands of people out there whom you and your loved one will never meet who are working hard day in and day out to beat breast cancer and do everything they can to ensure that there are as many survivors as possible.
Two more things, celebrate the wins, and if you can find the humor in your struggle embrace it. Jonette loves her “of course they are fake, my real ones tried to kill me!” shirt.
I would like to thank
Randall Patrick Munroe creator of XKCD and his heroic wife