It is that time of the year again – Breast Cancer Awareness Month – and while most people see it as the time that they are bombarded with fundraising and the color pink at every turn, there is so much more to learn about breast cancer from the perspective of those who have been diagnosed and immediately became part of the group of people who will live with breast cancer on some level for the rest of their lives. So I wanted to share a few things that might help those who are dealing with breast cancer as well as those around them as family members, friends, co-workers, associates and other interested people.
Most importantly, your love, support and understanding are most important. A patient has so much to handle with just the testing and treatment aspects of this diagnosis that all of the help that others can provide is immeasurably appreciated and needed.Barbara Jacoby
With a diagnosis, a patient will learn sooner or later that life will never be the same. No matter if a person ultimately completes treatment with a no evidence of disease (NED) test result or whether a patient has advanced breast cancer for which there is no cure, cancer changes everything. Even a NED result does not mean that the cancer will not advance at any time on down the road. Once you have cancer, it is a part of you and will have an influence on you for the rest of your life.
No matter the course of treatment that is elected, all treatment has side effects and for many patients, these effects can last a lifetime. All surgeries, chemo and radiation treatments and even hormone therapy have a direct effect on the body and the level and type of problems that result depends entirely on the individual. As each of us has our own unique fingerprints so do we have unique DNA and make up that varies from person to person. This is the reason that a person’s treatment needs to be changed when/if a certain treatment stops working or causes side effects that are too great for the individual.
And just as we are all completely unique individuals, no two people have exactly the same cancer. Therefore, despite the fact that a person has a particular type of cancer, that does not automatically determine a path of treatment for an individual. Therefore, performing assessment testing on the actual cancer will allow an oncologist to analyze the results in order to determine the best course of treatment for an individual without over prescribing.
As with all new diagnoses, we need information in order to make the best medical decisions. For some, they may be satisfied to follow the directions for treatment as given by their medical professionals. But with the increase of information and less face time at our doctors’ appointments, more patients are advocating for themselves to not only find new technologies, etc. to be considered but also to feel a sense of empowerment in the decisions, making them more vested in their own treatments.
No matter your health insurance, there will be financial implications. Co-pays for doctors’ appointments, surgeries, chemo treatments, radiation and medications become new budget items for many. There are also additional expenses such as transportation to and from treatments and appointments and often for services that are now needed in support of other family members. And this does not even begin to cover the financial losses if the patient is employed but not able to work during any/all phases of treatment.
Breast cancer patients will be dealing with physical and mental issues. Pain from tests, surgeries and treatments are a definite. Physical changes of the body for both the skin and internal organs from radiation are well documented. The “poison” that is chemo causes so many internal effects on the body that interfere with everything from sleep to eating to thinking just to mention a few and whether a patient can and will recover from these devastating assaults can only be determine with time. And one should also consider the traumatic effect that comes with this diagnosis and in dealing with all of the issues that come with both the treatments as well as family and financial issues. Long-term effects from all that a patient needs to handle can’t even begin to be measured on the psychological basis so help in this area should also be a part of treatment.
Most importantly, your love, support and understanding are most important. A patient has so much to handle with just the testing and treatment aspects of this diagnosis that all of the help that others can provide is immeasurably appreciated and needed. Anything that one can do to help a patient in any way is of utmost importance. All that is ever asked is that if a patient sets up some personal parameters regarding such things as visits or information that they want to share about their own situation, etc., is that you honor these boundaries and understand that it is nothing personal. The additional stress of dealing with such issues is the last thing that a patient needs. Therefore, your consideration and understanding will be appreciated so much more than you know.