Your Friend Has Breast Cancer. Now What?
By Christie Goofellow
It’s October finally which means pumpkin spice lattes, Apple Hill, Uggs (hopefully not with a miniskirt) and leggings (praise Jesus and pass the pie).
For some of us October has a very different meaning….it’s a month that celebrates those who are fighting, those who have passed, and those who’ve triumphed and survived. Unfortunately breast cancer is such a huge issue, everyone knows someone who has been through it. Six years ago I fought my fight and won and now I’m here to give you some advice on how to treat those who are going through it.
Invite us places!
We’re bored. During my six months of chemo I was not allowed to work. I sat at home and watched TV, became a permanent fixture at the McKinley Park Library, and when all else failed had staring contests with my dog.
People would always say to me “I thought you’d be too tired” or “I didn’t think you would be allowed to do that.” We know our bodies and also our limits so we’ll let you know if it’s something we’re not able or willing to do.
Newsflash- cancer patients are allowed out of the house. We won’t melt in the sun and we’re not contagious. Sometimes just an invitation for coffee or a cocktail (yes we’re allowed to drink while going through treatment) makes our day. Include us. I guarantee we’ll be the best dressed people there because we’ve been waiting to leave the house for days. Bonus: we can get ready on short notice because the only good thing about all of our hair falling out is not having to shave our legs.
Think about what you say before you say it.
People said the most ridiculous things to me while I was sick. The best one was along the lines of “It must be so fun to get to change your hair every day. I wish I was brave enough to shave my head and try wigs.”
Wow…first of all wearing a wig in Sacramento’s summer heat is terrible. I was constantly sweating and when you have to pencil on your eyebrows that have fallen out that totally does not work. We wear wigs because showing up to places with our bald head makes you nervous. It is not fun and believe me I had my wig off as soon as I was back in the car.
Another favorite was “My aunt, grandma, dry cleaner, had breast cancer. She died.” I’m so glad to know you’re rooting for me. Super inspirational. Thanks for vote of confidence.
I know it’s awkward. You never know what to say to us, but honestly I would have talked about anything other than being sick, so here’s your chance to rant about how your cat hates your boyfriend. It’s the only time in a million years I’ll care about that, so take the opportunity. Talk to us like you did before we were sick. We appreciate it.
We want you to come to our appointments and sit with us if you have the time. My sister came to every chemo appointment. She got to know the nurses and asked questions and was so affected by it that she’s in school to be a chemo nurse (proud sister moment). She entertained me for four hours every other week and I was so grateful. I was the only person under the age of 60 receiving chemo treatments so it was nice to have someone to watch Twilight with. Be present. It does more for us than any pink bracelet or 5K ever will.
Make her smile.
I’m asked regularly by people who have a loved one experiencing cancer treatments what to buy to help make her day easier. Keep in mind that each person is different but here are some things that brightened my day and made me smile.
- Chapstick– my lips were constantly dry and peeling- Sun Bum has SPF in it which is a bonus because your skin is very sensitive to the sun during treatment.
- Comfies – Slippers or chenille socks and comfy robes or pjs- After every treatment I spent a fews days recovering and having something soft against my super achy body was heaven. I felt like I was hit by a truck after every treatment so I spent a lot of time relaxing in my favorite bathrobe. I even named it Robie and still currently obsess over new bathrobes every Winter. (Santa if you’re reading this…1 robe please)
- Nail Polish – This sounds odd I know but I wasn’t allowed to have my nails done during treatment because of the risk of infection. Each time I got a new nail polish I was so excited because it made me feel like a girl and have something about me that still felt pretty. Sometimes just feeling normal is a huge plus. Offer to paint her nails for her. The soreness in our joints sometimes makes it hard to do. Plus it’s the perfect activity while watching Magic Mike.
- Books and magazines– You have to sit pretty still during chemo so I did a lot of reading and movie watching and felt like I was always running out of things to read. I’m huge fan of People Style Watch but get your friend whatever she is into. Bonus points if you sit with us and judge celebrity’s outfits.
- Something personal– My husband at the time’s co-worker made me a beautiful quilt and wrote me a letter telling me that it was a magic quilt that would make sure I got better if I kept it on my bed during my fight. I still cry when I read the letter and still sometimes wrap myself in my magic quilt.
Things to possibly think twice about
All pink everything. We love that you are supporting our cause but we don’t necessarily need every Save the Tatas shirt ever made. Save that type of gift for events or races where everyone is wearing them. Also hats are tricky. It’s true our heads get cold but hats are very personal and when you are trying to cover up having no hair it can also be very emotional. I also sometimes felt when people made me hats that it was pressure to cover my bald head in public. Each gal is different but I felt better buying my own.
Bottom line is we know it’s hard. Talking about cancer to anyone is always awkward let alone talking to someone going through it. I had encounters with the kindest strangers who would approach me in the grocery store and tell me how proud they were of me and give me hugs. It sounds odd but it made my day. The best advice I can give you on how to treat your loved one is this…Every day is a miracle to her so on the days where you get to spend time with her…just MAKE HER DAY. Root for us. We’re fighting so we can stay here with you and believe me it’s all we want to do.