Cancer Taught Me There Are So Many Forms of Support


When I was first diagnosed, I wasn’t sure what kind of support to ask for, but now I’m thankful to have many wonderful forms of support around me.

cartoon image of blogger and metastatic breast cancer survivor, Elizabeth McSpadden

When I first heard the words, “there are five lumps in your left breast,” my world instantly collapsed, and I knew it was cancer. It had to be, because nothing else made sense.

Five years ago, inthat moment, I knew I needed a lot of support, but trying to define what I needed seemed impossible. People asked me what I needed, and I felt awful that I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t tell them what I needed. I felt ashamed and guilty because I couldn’t vocalize my own needs. At 30, my world was crippled, in a temporary state of paralysis with no ending in sight, and my loved ones were looking for basic ways to help me. Yet, I had no words (at first).

My first round of doctors brought confusion and a lack of unison, giving me no treatment plan and leaving me without any future. At that point, I knew I needed support — and it poured in. My mom stepped in with resources for new doctors at different hospitals, other family members stepped in with rides to doctor appointments, and the number of verbal/handwritten cardsand emotional support always along my side.

With my second care team at a research-based hospital and getting a solid future treatment outlook (in 2018), I gained a lot more confidence in how to express my needs. Some support offered non-modern medicine approaches on how to treat my cancer, and while I was grateful for them, I expressed my opinion that I didn’t want them, nor did I seek that advice. Modern medicine saved my life and was what I was supporting.I’d appreciate it if my support system could do the same.

Over the next few years of being re-diagnosed as stage 4 breast cancer (originally stage 3, but I was misdiagnosed, and my cancer grew to stage four), my support system multiplied. I had joined online support groups through social media for my type of cancer, met pink sisters/warriors, started a caringbridge blog of updates for my friends/family, did a cancer walk with friends/coworkers/family, and created this amazing support system called Team Sunshine. Team Sunshine became this beautiful miracle that saved my soul in so many ways — and it reminded me that support comes in so many forms.

Between my “Dory brain” (forgetful chemo brain), two jobs, and stage 4 metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, my life can be a little crazy, so support is needed on all forms. From car rides and note taking from a friend/family member at a doctor’s appointment to a friend sending extra texts to remind me that we kept pushing back our coffee dates for several weeks and my Dory brain has been forgetful. Support is also “Hey- you’re doing a great job at this, don’t sweat that little thing” from a co-worker/boss, and a card in the mail saying “Miss Liz, I think you are amazing, and you are just going to keep fighting!”

Crazy enough, support is also my doctor suggesting radiating both of my legs instead of just one, so I am in less pain, without me asking for it (self-advocating). Support is my significant other saying nothing and just holding me when I cry anddoing the dishes (unprompted) when my hip hurts so bad from cancer metastases that I can’t stand to do them.

However, a gentle reminder that I tell myself is that it is a two-way street; For all of the support that I receive, I must try to be kind and give all that I can back in ways that I was given. It’s been five years since my diagnosis, and my support system is my everything — and more.

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