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The Importance of Breast Cancer Mentoring

Learning to navigate breast cancer is easier with someone by your side.
PUBLISHED September 02, 2016
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
Hearing the words "You have breast cancer" was surreal to me. I felt like I had left my body and was outside looking in on an episode of "The Twilight Zone." I was hearing the words but didn’t want to believe them. Once they finally sunk into my brain and I processed them, I went into a state of confusion. What was the next step? I felt so alone. I had no idea how to go through cancer.

It’s funny how a diagnosis of cancer made me want to research the disease. I got on the internet and read every article I could about breast cancer. I went to the library and checked out dozens of books. I felt it was my duty to become knowledgeable. My goal wasn’t to become an instant expert on the subject. I only wanted to be well informed. As I began to glean information, I was dumbfounded by the massive amounts of material available. There were so many medical reports and first-hand accounts. There were articles containing positive information and also ones containing horror stories. It was my job to wade through them and decipher truth from fiction.

The most helpful place I found for information was a breast cancer survivor website. On the site, I was able to ask the most ridiculous questions without feeling judged. The women were so gracious and really wanted to help. I conversed with women in various stages of active cancer and ones in complete remission. Although we were complete strangers, I felt comfortable sharing my story with them. They were willing to listen and offer advice. I felt I had many new friends, all part of the pink sisterhood.

As I prepared for surgery, I felt more secure knowing I’d reached out to women for answers regarding each phase of my upcoming treatment. I was dumbfounded when a woman I’d chatted with on social media offered to come visit me immediately after surgery. I was cautious but optimistic as I agreed to allow her to come to my home. It would be awkward meeting a stranger but my hopes were in making a new friend.

Karen was about six months ahead of me in her breast cancer journey. She’d already had surgery, chemo and radiation. The next step for her was reconstructive surgery. The day she came to visit, I met her at the door with drainage bulbs dangling from my chest. Instantly, we bonded as we compared notes regarding our diagnoses and treatment. Since Karen had already been through chemo and radiation, she was a wealth of information and helped me know exactly what to expect in the days ahead. We swapped phone numbers and she encouraged me to call her any time of the day or night. She was going to be my breast cancer mentor and she wanted to do it without seeking anything in return. She told me she’d done this for one other woman shortly after completing treatment and she felt it was her calling.

When I found it difficult to sleep with the drains in place, Karen suggested I sleep in my recliner so I’d be more comfortable. When I couldn’t figure out how to shower with the drainage bulbs dangling from my chest, she told me to tie two shoe laces together, drape that loop around my neck, and then attach large safety pins to the loop to hold up the bulbs. Each and every suggestion was perfect! Knowing Karen had already "been there and done that," helped me rest assured I was going to be able to make it through this difficult time.

Over and over again, Karen came to my rescue. She even offered to go to treatment with me and hold my hand. Her willingness to support me was the best thing that could have happened to me. Since I’ve completed treatment, I hope to come alongside a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient and offer my support and encouragement. I think it’s important for women who’ve been down the breast cancer road to mentor those just starting their journey. It makes a huge difference to have someone by your side as you take the first step. If I hadn’t touched base with Karen on the breast cancer survivor website, I would have had to figure things out on my own. It was so much better walking this difficult road knowing I had a shoulder to lean on.

There are several breast cancer mentoring websites. It’s a whole lot easier to "do pink" with someone else instead of doing it alone. Check out your local breast cancer wellness center for help finding breast cancer mentors near you. There are also websites for those who’ve been through breast cancer and want to help others by becoming a mentor:

http://www.abcdbreastcancersupport.org/how-to-support/become-a-mentor/

http://www.abcdbreastcancersupport.org/get-support/get-a-mentor/

http://imermanangels.org/

http://www.cancer.org/treatment/supportprogramsservices/reach-to-recovery

http://www.bcfo.org/support-groups-mentoring-program/

http://www.tolife.org/breast-cancer-support/cancer-mentoring/
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