At the Firefly Sisterhood, we have the privilege of learning every day from the survivors with whom we work. They’ve shared with us valuable advice for those recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
Here, we elaborate on five of their ideas about how to manage the challenges that can arise for personal relationships after a breast cancer diagnosis.
- Be selective about the people with whom you surround yourself. This is true of your medical team, of course, but also of your personal supporters. You are your own best advocate—seek out those who will encourage you to stay positive, or who will keep you laughing, or who will simply be quietly present, or who will help make the experience what you want it to be. Remember that it can be okay to let some relationships go through a period of dormancy.
- Be willing to ask for help when you need it, and be willing to be directive about what kind of help you need. As difficult as it is for many to accept, you will need help. Your friends and family likely will want to be helpful, though they may not always know how. Consider designating a close supporter to coordinate offers of help via one of the many available online tools such as Lotsa Helping Hands, Meal Train, My Cancer Circle, or CaringBridge. Be straightforward about your needs; if your appetite can only handle chicken soup, don’t be afraid to say so to the friend who wants to drop off a meal.
- Cut yourself some social slack. Even if your goal is to maintain a normal life during treatment, realize that you can (and should) put your own best interests first when it comes to social engagements and responsibilities. Some days, planning a spur-of-the-moment birthday party for your sister may be just what you need; other days, you may not even feel up to greeting the friend who is dropping off that chicken soup. (As one survivor suggests, keep a cooler outside your front door for just such occasions.) Listen to your body, and be willing to accept shifts in social roles and priorities accordingly.
- Consider different ways to communicate with friends and family. People may be unsure of how to talk about your experience (or whether or not to talk about it at all). You can take the lead by setting terms with which you are comfortable. You may prefer one-on-one communication, or you may find that blogging or sending group emails is your preferred way to stay in touch. In either case, you ensure that your supporters have accurate updates, avoiding the need to dispel misinformation later. Additionally, many people find it valuable to process their experience in writing—in fact, research from the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas and Skidmore College suggests that expressive writing may actually be beneficial to patients’ health.
- Find outside sources of support to take pressure off your personal relationships. Long illnesses are hard on caretakers, too. Consider taking advantage of support groups that can help you develop relationships outside of your existing personal support network. Fostering these relationships is the primary focus of the Firefly Sisterhood. Your nurse navigator, social worker, or care coordinator can help you find other support groups. The added benefit of getting involved with a support group is that you’ll meet people who are going through or have been through the same experience. As many members of the Firefly Sisterhood will tell you, those connections are invaluable.