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(BPT) - The topic of breast cancer can feel familiar — from October walks to pink ribbons, Americans know breast cancer. That is, until you or a loved one is diagnosed.
Suddenly, breast cancer moves from a topic that feels championed to a topic that is entirely too new, too unknown and too fresh. Suddenly, there is not enough information or resources to help a family cope.
Nearly all Americans are aware that breast cancer poses a serious health threat to both women and men, but despite the vast awareness, many don’t know what it really means to fight this disease. According to a recent study conducted by Ford’s breast cancer awareness initiative, Warriors in Pink, more than 40 percent of Americans are unfamiliar with the day-to-day challenges patients face while in treatment, and even more, nearly 75 percent admit that they are unsure how to best support patients.
Loved ones not knowing how to help makes a difference because family and friends are proven to be patients’ greatest resources for getting through treatment. Supporters may not know where to start in providing support, feeling that the issues facing patients are too big for them to solve. But what you still don’t know about breast cancer is that the little things matter more than ever. In fact, the ability to maintain day-to-day routines during treatment is one of breast cancer patients’ top concerns — second only to life expectancy.
“In terms of the day-to-day, it's those tasks that were hardest for me,” says breast cancer survivor, Jenn Nudelman. “So my friends and family just came and did things. They didn’t give me a choice. A lot of times people reach out and say, ‘What can I do?’ But I'm not a person who asks for help. It was those friends who didn’t even ask, just acted, that I really shared the journey with.”
The key to care and being able to “just act” is being familiar with what types of support patients need most. When asked what type of support that is, patients report needing the most help with daily activities like household chores, errands and meal preparation while undergoing treatment.
“People brought meals to me,” says survivor Lisa Hedenstrom, “and my husband organized a lot of the logistics — taking me to appointments and helping me organize those appointments. Family and friends would come help with tasks for me, too. Because of them, I didn’t have to worry about grocery shopping or other types of tiring daily chores.”
Another survivor, Lori Redunski, could relate. “My husband hired a cleaning crew to come in and my kids would come home and see the lines in the carpet, smell the cleanser and feel comfortable in their home. It made our life so much easier,” she says.
These daily tasks are often overlooked, but every action taken to help patients to focus on their health and fighting this disease makes a difference.
“There are missing things that people don’t think about,” says survivor Heidi Floyd. “For example, if you need your side walk shoveled because of the snow, your lawn mowed or your pets cared for. Who has energy to walk their dog when they’re doing eight or nine hours of chemo or daily radiation?”
While help with these daily tasks undeniably lessens the burden on breast cancer patients, it’s important to remember that emotional care is also vital for those going through treatment.
“Through it all, you need at least one supporter who is genuinely there to do just that, to support you; to pray with you and to make you laugh,” says survivor Deborah Hayes. “Amidst trying to be strong throughout treatment and recovery, and making sure that everything in your personal life still gets accomplished, one really does need that supportive friend or group to share your innermost feelings.”
To empower friends and family to take action and support the breast cancer patients in their lives, Ford Warriors in Pink offers free support services that make it easy to respond to their greatest needs — including cleaning services, meal kit deliveries, alternative hospital wear, online scheduling tools and more. These resources, available on their website at www.fordcares.com, allow loved ones who don’t know how to help to simply click and “just act” — without being asked. Additionally, the site offers tips and ideas on how to help patients have more good days during their journey.
“I was blessed with a great family and friends that were there to bring me support,” Redunski says. “But when people don’t have that support, they really need to feel comfortable with the resources that are available to them — whether through their doctors or online.”
Take the time to learn how you can make the little things add up to a supportive journey for the breast cancer patients in your life.