STORIES Breast Cancer Awareness Support after diagnosis To get through the cancer ‘experience’ I have broken it down into stages Diagnosis and preparing for road ahead Surgery and recovery Chemo Further treatment I’ve been very lucky to have some amazing friends (and generally people) around me to help make this initial stage fly by with only one minor hiccup (ok it was a gigantic belch…but at least it was only once!) So as I prepare to enter the surgery and recovery stage I thought it would be a good time to recap on all the wonderful things people have done for me. My intention isnt just to have a bragging session (although my friends are pretty brag-worthy!) its more to give ideas to people who may be supporting someone in this first stage. Cards I didn’t get any ‘Get Well Soon’ cards, any cards I got were ‘thinking of you’ or just random funnies. But I did read on a forum what others got and the general consensus seemed to be that get well cards aren’t ideal. I did however love getting cards so on the whole I’d say they’re a good idea just steer clear of get well ones. It was so exciting coming down the stairs and seeing mail that wasnt a hospital appointment letter! Flowers Flowers are an entirely personal decision, some people love them, some don’t. Something that happened to me by fluke was a continuous run of flowers. People found out about my cancer in waves so I got a couple of bunches as soon as I was diagnosed, then another couple a week or so later and another couple a week or so after that. While mine was unplanned it actually worked out really well! It meant I wasn’t overrun with flowers that then all died at the same time, instead I had fresh flowers for weeks! (and with only two vases in the house it also saved me having to go and buy more!) It probably meant the delivery man thought I was a bit of a tart but hey, at least he thought I was good at it! So if you want to send flowers I would consider sending them a bit later. It would be a lovely surprise to get a bunch of flowers a few weeks after diagnosis, it will also let the recipient know that they’re not been forgotten now the hype of the diagnosis has died down. Not Flowers I was given a couple of personal hampers which were great! They had things like dry shampoo, toiletries, sweets, a mini DVD player with DVD’s, adult colouring book, puzzle games, nail varnish and so many more perfect items. All the items had been individually chosen for me and had clearly been very thought out so were really touching. If you don’t know the person well enough to get personalised things, the company “Dont buy her flowers” do some amazing hampers designed exactly for this sort of thing! Donations For me knowing my cancer wasn’t going to be pointless was really important. The first thing I did when I got the diagnosis was set up a fundraising page for Kicks count and Coppafeel. I was completely overwhelmed when the fundraising page hit £1000 in a few days and that gave me such a boost in the early days while things were still sinking in. Fundraisers When people had seen I wanted to fundraise (but would clearly not be entering a marathon for a while! ok ever…. that looks like hard work) some of my friends signed up for sporting events for my chosen charities! It is not only an amazing gesture but its also such a boost seeing their training and progress on Facebook. People knew the charities I wanted to fundraise for, but if someone hasn’t expressed an allegiance to a specific charity, ask them. You get exposed to many amazing charities even at the early stages (Breast Cancer Care, Look Good Feel better, knitted knockers to name a few). They may have one that has been a particular help that they would really appreciate fundraising for rather than just going for what you think is an obvious choice Cancer bubble relief At my diagnosis appointment Julie asked the doctor what they could do to support me. My doctors response? “Take her out and get her drunk” I love my doctor. Now while this may not be for everyone, the sentiment can be adapted. She emphasised that my life will be very cancer focused for the foreseeable future (she wasn’t kidding!) Appointments, things to read, decisions to make, surgery, chemo etc. She said it was important I was allowed out of the bubble. So whether it’s nights out, going out for coffee, having a girlie day, anything that is out of a hospital environment and that isn’t cancer centred is a good thing. I’ve had a few so far and they do make a huge difference. Food My sister and friend Sarah showed up one Sunday with tubs full of home cooked meals. They had spent the previous day together preparing the meals and then brought them round to my freezer!! Perfect!! There are 30 (yes 30!!) meals in my freezer. So when I come out of hospital after the operation and don’t feel like cooking I don’t need to rely on take aways which would probably end up making me feel worse. Instead I have things like bolognase, sweet and sour chicken, sausage casserole etc. Some of my favourite meals and they are healthy and easy!! (My sister also did this after I had my babies, a great gift then too!) If you are considering this for someone you don’t know as well as my sister knows me there are a few points to consider. The main one being make sure you know the person’s dietery requirements/preferences. Although treatment hasn’t started yet I do feel nauseated a lot of the time (maybe its all the blood tests etc!), having to eat a meal I didn’t like would be a nightmare (and I’d feel guilty if I threw it away!) If you’re not sure what they like…just ask! If possible give it to them in a disposable container. They will have a lot on their plate (pardon the pun) and having to worry about returning your best le cruset dish is an unnecessary addition. Tubs from the pound shop work just as well! “Anything I can do” People often say “if theres anything I can do let me know”. This tends to come from a wide range of people, from your closest friend to the woman you pass occasionally at the post office. Knowing what is a genuine offer and what is a friendly platitude can be tricky. Its also hard to know what to ask for. If its intended as a friendly platitude it is an appreciated sentiment. If you do actually want to literally do something making a concerted effort can make asking for help easier. I received an email from a mum at the school saying she would like to offer her help, with her contact details and what she would be able to help with. I will now feel much more comfortable asking her for help if I need it. My local friends have gone a step further and made a list of jobs I may need help with, a list of people willing to help and when they are available. The jobs they have identified are: Gossiping Picking up/dropping off kids at school Meals Food shopping Helping kids with homework Its like my cancer has its own PA! We had a breakfast meeting to make sure I was happy having all the people on the list drop in (which I was) and when I would need most help. It is a huge weight off my shoulders to know theres a whole pool of people who can help and I have one person I can contact who will then find someone to do what I need! (I’m slightly worried being treated so well will go to my head…Diva in waiting!) Its so hard trying to think ahead when all I can really focus on is the surgery. So having that stress taken away has been such a relief, apparently all I have to do is beat the cancer. Hmmm….. I would like to provide a link to where you can get these friends but I’m afraid I’m going to be selfish and keep them to myself! Gifts Drain dollies. When I come out of hospital I will still have drains in to drain the fluid from my chest. I will have 2 in each side and will need to carry them everywhere. A lovely girl called Charlotte came up with drain dollies after her own mastectomy. Fed up of carrying her drains she made her own drain dolly, a pretty shoulder bag that holds the drains (I thought about trying to use a regular handbag but that’s not the same! Walking round the house with 2 handbags would feel ridiculous!) The drain dollies and really light and come in so many pretty designs (I’ve gone navy polka dot and a cath Kidsten style) they are only £6 and 10% from each sale goes to Genesis Breast Cancer. Available from: www.draindollies.co.uk Chillow Chemotherapy and the tamoxifen drugs I will be taking (for ten years!! Joy!!) give you hot flushes. The chillow is a mat you lay on your pillow that helps keep you cool. I was given this by a friend and gave it an unintentioanl test run when I had a little bit too much to drink on one of the aforementioned nights out! I got the chillow and laid on it on my bed….it felt amazing! You know how when you’re drunk you want to lay on a cold floor so usually end up sleeping on the bathroom floor? (please tell me this isnt just me!) The chillow lets you get the same sensation but in the comfort of your bed. No cricked neck from sleeping curled up under a loo seat! Available from: www.chillow.co.uk Magazine subscription. One of the great gifts I was given was a 6 month subscription to OK! magazine. I think its safe to say I will be spending a lot of time sitting around over the next few months, be it recovering from surgery, waiting for an appointment or having chemotherapy. A magazine like this will be ideal! Superhero cape! One of my friends had a personalised superhero cape, mask and cuffs made for me! This will be absolutely essential to get me through the next 6 months Loose change (hear me out in this!) Cancer involves a lot of hospital visits. A LOT! And car parking is not cheap and, depending what hospital you are at, they’re not very sophisticated! I am lucky that my handbag is such a pandoras box of crap that there is probably a small fortune in loose change kicking around the bottom amongst the Cheerios and pens. It always feels a bit of a bush tucker trial going in there. If you know someone who has a tidier handbag than me having enough change all the time could be a pain! A bag of 50ps or £1 coins could be very useful! Or if you’re feeling upmarket maybe a small purse with coins in! Breast feeding Pillow I have always loved my breastfeeding pillow (from izabela peters) even though I got it two years after I last breast fed! I use it as a reading cushion in bed and it is SO comfy! So I will be using this when I come out of hospital to help me sleep on my back and keep me comfy! Available from: www.izabelapeters.com I have been very lucky with how I’ve been treated since my diagnosis and how supportive everyone has been. I hope these ideas are useful if you do want to buy a gift or make a gesture but being there for someone is the most important thing you can do for them. Text regularly but let them know they don’t need to reply. Take your cue from them on how much or how little they want you around. And don’t be offended if they don’t want to talk for a bit. Cancer screws with your thoughts and emotions so be there with no obligation and you’ll be more valued than you realise.