When Pinktober Brings Another Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Here are some tips on how I helped a friend who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, is my time to gaze into a pool of memories of my breast cancer diagnosis and my mother’s first diagnosis, as well to remember a brother’s diagnosis of lymphoma and the death of an aunt from breast cancer.

It is the month I get yet another diagnostic mammogram on my remaining breast, do bloodwork, visit my oncologist.

As happy as I am to be a survivor, Breast Cancer Awareness Month can be emotionally triggering.

The last thing I expected to be doing as this October got underway, with all its pink celebrations, was helping a friend through a breast cancer diagnosis. Of course, since my own journey started, others have turned to me for advice or to commiserate or both. I have always been happy to help.

This time, however, I was hit hard by my friend’s diagnosis. How many more friends and family members will get cancer in my lifetime? It breaks my heart to hypothesize the answer to that question.

After I dried my initial tears over my friend’s diagnosis of breast cancer, I double-checked a CDC resource called Breast Cancer Risk in American Women. If 12.9% of women will get a diagnosis in their lifetime, it seems logical I am going to know more of these women the longer I live.

Why not my friends, from a college roommate to graduate school office mate to co-workers? Why not hiking buddies, other moms, my mother?

Wallowing in the past is not always helpful. This year, helping somebody else has been the best way to distract myself from my own memories of past Octobers. From offering a ride to a sympathetic ear, we survivors know what to do.

  • In case it is helpful to others, here is a short list of suggestions that I turn to when helping somebody else:
  • Remember that a diagnosis, as shocking or upsetting as it can be initially, is a good thing if it means it sets you on the road to survival.
  • Connect with a cancer navigator early in your journey; usually one will reach out to you, but it is OK for you to reach out first.
  • Be your own best advocate; for example, if an expected call does not come, follow up.
  • Start a cancer journal; it will help to have a personal record of everything associated with a cancer experience.
  • If you get an appointment that conflicts with something important in some other area of your life, pick the appointment that is going to help save your life; everything else can be rearranged.
  • Do not beat yourself up trying to figure out why you got cancer but do follow up on any genetic testing advised (and reconsider any unhealthy habits).
  • Utilize resources such as The American Cancer Society’s “Understanding A Breast Cancer Diagnosis.”
  • Find comfort from other survivors, from friends to survivors sharing their stories online, as in CURE.
  • Seek advice from survivors but remember that each case is unique; your medical team will recommend what is best for you and you alone in your circumstances.
  • It is OK to cry.

While my friend’s cancer diagnosis startled me, I am glad to put my experience to good use. Even so, survivors should not let their memories and experiences overshadow a friend’s immediate needs. Most important, I think, I simply need to be there as a friend to listen and to help my friend through her unique cancer journey, just as she once helped me through mine.

Perhaps others reading this blog will share advice they give to friends just diagnosed with breast cancer.

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