The statistics are frightening, 1 out of 8 woman are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. When you think about it by looking at seven women in your life and also in the mirror (if you’re a woman) than someone in this group will get this diagnosis. It becomes more real.
I am in this situation. A close friend and mentor to me in the child life field has just recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and has started the beginning stages of treatment. She just underwent surgery in both breasts to remove the cancerous cells and is still recovering from the gaping four inch wound to her chest. The positive side of this is that the doctors didn’t discover any cancerous cells in her lymph nodes and are still pending on further testing. She will begin radiation soon and there is still a possibility of chemotherapy treatment.
The irony of this:
I have been educated and trained by my mentor to work with children and families who are diagnosed with illnesses including cancer. Now, she has this diagnosis and my role as a friend begins to change.
I see myself having to take time to process what she is going through. I have to find outlets to express my own thoughts and feelings of shock, anger, sadness and empathy. I then put my child life hat on and provide therapeutic support to her.
- Validation of feelings- all of them
- Encouragement- Even to just rest, heal, smile, laugh and lean on loved ones for support
- Navigation-Her journey through treatment and to remission
- Paying it forward- Rallying a team to walk/run in a fundraising cancer organization in her honor.
- Commitment- Continuing to check in- not just when I first got the news but throughout this process and beyond.
After I write this down, I realize that it becomes natural for me to go into the child life specialist role, but it is also a role that any friend or loved one could do.
Cancer effects everyone. It hits the person who is diagnosed the hardest but it also has a rippling effect to all of their friends, family and community. Sometimes the people who are secondary to the diagnosis need to be able to find support and coping strategies to deal with the emotional impact that it causes. Children should be involved as well. They should be told what is happening in a developmentally appropriate way and have outlets to express their thoughts and feelings.
Have you found yourself in this situation before? What types of support did you provide? Did you find yourself having a hard time coping with a loved ones diagnosis?
For further information on ways to help provide support to families and children dealing with an illness, check out the Child Life Council or ask for a child life specialist at the hospital where the patient is receiving treatment.
Here is the direct link to my team on American Cancer Society, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer; in honor of my friend.