“Support is anything that reduces stress.” That statement was one of the most compelling descriptions of support I had ever heard (Joan Dayger Behn, Ph.D.)
When our friends or loved ones are diagnosed with something like breast cancer, we all want to be there to help and offer that support. We often say, with complete sincerity, “Please let me know if there is anything I can do.” The patient will likely respond with, “I will. Thank you.” The problem is - she won’t. Asking her for ideas on how to help her doesn’t relieve stress, but can actually add to it. It can send a message that she is on her own unless she comes up with an idea. That is too much to expect from her during this critical event. We need to be pro-active and find ways to do things that will help relieve her stress.
When a personal diagnosis of breast cancer strikes us, it feels like our world as we know it just came to an end. And in many ways, that feeling is not unfounded. When I was hit with it the first time in 1996 at age 43, I was at the height of my career. I was so wrapped up in work that my day started early and ended late. My husband was the main care-giver for our children. The day of my diagnosis started out as a routine mammogram, my first in 7 years. My day quickly turned into a nightmare. When I received my diagnosis, which appeared out of the blue, it knocked the wind out of me. I could barely see the numbers on my cell phone through my tears as I tried to call my husband and tell him the news. For the first time, in a long time, I felt completely out of control.
One of the greatest challenges I faced through my treatment, besides the hair loss – another story entirely, was depression. It came from the fear that I would not be missed and the world, and my family, would carry on without me. Had it not been for the support of my friends and family members, I am convinced I would have continued in the downward spiral that started that April morning. My friend Sharon (who later would become the other Breast Friends Co-founder) immediately took up the banner of support by rallying my co-workers.