Here are some resources for the wonderful breast cancer supporters written by people who have supported others going through breast cancer:
- 10 Tips on Being a Good Support Person
- From a Husband/Support Person
- Being a Chemo Support Person and
- Getting Insurance Before a Cancer Diagnosis
1. 10 Tips on Being a Good Support Person
First and foremost, I have to say this is from my personal experience and it’s not an easy job and you have to be in it to really understand it. But I hope some of these tips will help you get through it:
- Look after yourself. You need to be well rested so that you can look after your loved one and be a good support person.
- Know your limits and if you reach your limit, ask for help. You’re not superman and remember no one is. If you need to take time out, do so and ask for a substitute support person to help out. You owe it to yourself and your loved one that you looking after. Remember, a happy, relaxed, recharged supporter is great support.
- Mental support. Have somewhere or someone that you can go to for help and mental support. A place that you can be totally honest. This is important as it will get mentally draining and you would need to get some help. You owe it to yourself and the loved one you looking after.
- Don’t give yourself a hard time, you are only a human.
- Don’t think of the future too much as it can get a bit messy or scary in your head. Focus on daily and weekly matters where your support is required now, not five or ten years from now.
- Stay active. Swim, go to gym; play some outdoor/indoor sport or anything that demands a lot of physical activity. Even if it’s once a week, it helps, getting some frustration out.
- Laughter is the best medicine, it really is. See or do things that help lift your spirits. You have a lot of serious things to deal with in your day to day life so it’s ok to have some silly time for you.
- Listen, really listen to your loved one and hear them out. Work with them not from what you think is best for them.
- Educate yourself, attend the support groups, go to treatment sessions and read about the symptoms, side effects and reactions. All that will help you understand better why they get forgetful or extra sensitive for example.
- Finally, Hang in there, be kind to yourself and always know that your partner/wife/loved one would do the same for you, if not more.
2. From a Husband/ Support Person
I’m sure you all want to hear some deep, heartfelt and inspiring story from me…..in which case you should piss off down to the library and go look in the children’s section for some fairy tales or books about talking animals.
When your wife is diagnosed with cancer, your first thought is “Oh shit!” What’s required next is you put all your own personal issues, gripes and other bullshit aside and get on with the task of helping her beat it. Part of the time you go on autopilot, which is helpful as you don’t tend to think too far ahead. Initially, there’s the whirlwind of appointments, probably surgery and lots of driving around. So how do you get through it all, you just do.
1) Don’t think too far ahead. Focus on the daily routines; it keeps your mind busy, busy is good and it stops you from thinking about what might be. On the flipside, do set goals like “a year from now, when all the treatment’s done, we’re going to laugh about this.” Plan a trip, which is what my wife does – which is why we’re broke, but also why we have such great memories and a good marriage (travel together, that’s the secret).
2) Humour is good too. Luckily my wife has a tremendous sense of humour, and doesn’t take much seriously. Laughter is good medicine, not as good as tamoxifen, but at least you feel better right away.
3) Make a little bit of time for your own stuff, so you don’t go completely crazy. If you let the cancer take over both your lives, they won’t be worth living. Kind of like the joke:
Patient: “Doctor, if I give up smoking, drinking, fatty foods and sex, will I live longer?”
Doctor: “Well, actually no….but it’ll feel longer. “
What I did
For me, I spent some extra time with the punching bag (if you don’t have one for your garage, get one, good therapy Although the best therapy was walking the dog, I’d talk to him about all my worries and issues, he was a such a great listener. He’d listen to all my bullshit, and then sniff the bushes and take a big crap. Amazing how you regain perspective about how your own problems are insignificant when you’re picking up dog faeces. Maybe you need to hit some extra golf-balls at the range or restore some furniture. No drinking though, you need to be at the top of your game because you’re helping someone else fight for their life against a cruel and merciless fucking enemy.
Anyway, simply put, having a wife/partner with cancer sucks, but you just have to man up and deal with it. It’s okay to fall apart, be down, sad, even lose the plot. But just don’t do it in front of the person you’re supporting. Nope, when you’re with them, chances are you’ll be doing lots of bits and pieces to help them out, and then you have to have your game face on. It’ll make their time a lot easier (which is your entire purpose in life right now) and whatever happens further on, good or bad, you’ll be glad you did.
3. Being a Chemo Support Person
Gillian has written a helpful summary of How to be a Chemo Support Person. I hope that it will be of help to others. Thanks Gill!
I have had the privilege of being Andrea’s support person when she was having Chemotherapy and Herceptin treatment so just wanted to share some ideas that may help someone else that has been asked to take on this role. Just be aware this is only from my experience and it could be totally different for someone else and the person you are providing support for may require totally different support. This experience gave me a small insight in to what my friend was experiencing and gave me a practical way to be able to help, so if you are offered this opportunity I would encourage you to take it.
- Offer to pick them up and take them home and to stay as long as they need you. If you are unable to stay make sure they have someone with them for that night.
- Arrive on time, the person may already be feeling anxious so you don’t want to be the source of additional stress.
- Have the whole day free so you aren’t having to check the time, often it will take longer than expected.
- Pop into a cafe for a hot drink or even get a takeaway to sip on while you are waiting, if you get there early.
- Try to be as relaxed as possible and just be yourself, most probably the reason they have asked you is because they feel comfortable around you, well either that or you’re a great joke teller like myself .
- Have some good jokes for use as distraction (such as when the needle is being insertedbut perhaps not a naff knock knock joke from your childhood J
- Take something with you that you can do if the person wants to rest or doesn’t feel like talking, crossword, book, magazine, joke book (this is your opportunity to learn some better jokes ) etc.
- Offer to go and get snacks and drinks; also you should try and drink and snack yourself as it can be a long day. Lots of little treats may help to make the person you are supporting feel better but they may also not feel like eating.
- Go off for a walk if you need to as it’s good to get some fresh air and the person may want some time alone (yes by now she is sick of my jokes).
- If the person needs to go the bathroom or for a walk, offer to go with them as they will need to trail the treatment stand behind them and may feel weak. Then just wait outside in case they should need you. However remember always to allow them to keep their dignity so whatever feels right for them is OK with you.
- If the person starts to feel nauseous, ask the nurse for assistance as they may be able to have an anti-nausea medication.
- Try to talk about interesting things apart from the treatment although not to the point where you are pretending it is not happening. You may be able to do some pre-planning on topics of interest and then can chat about that or even have some activities to do. We did some colouring in of pre-drawn images, which was actually quite fun and really relaxing.
- Ask if they want you to go to see Oncologist etc. as it is good to have two ears there and you may also be able to take notes.
- When you get home it’s good to debrief with another person as there is quite a lot to take in.
- And last but not least ASK if you aren’t sure.
4. Getting Insurance Before a Cancer Diagnosis
The Problem with Being Positive (About Cancer, Wine, Obesity and Money)
Welcome to Andrea’s website. She’s a fantastic woman and is coping very well. She motivates me with her positivity. I met Andrea when we were on chemotherapy at the same time in 2007. Ugh! My memories of that time were about fearfulness and illness while at the same time I made friends with new wonderfully supportive people. Today I’m grateful for the experience but it’s definitely one that I don’t want another of.
My cancer journey
Sometimes during chemo I felt so sick. Once I was trembling in the shower and started to think that it would be better not to take the chemo because I thought it was killing me. The district nurse said to double the medication I was taking to lessen the effects of the steroids that were supposed to lessen the effects of the chemo. When I doubled that medication I felt profoundly worse and that’s when we learned that I was one of the many who reacted badly to maxillon. Stopping that drug was really helpful. Towards the end of my chemo I stopped all drugs. I preferred to go cold turkey than take the drugs because I never had one that didn’t make me feel awful. It’s not just the chemo that made me feel awful. It was also the other ones I was given afterwards as well.
Cover Your Breasts
It was good to have recorded my experiences at that time. Today, I had forgotten the name of the drug (maxillon) so I looked it up in the book I wrote Cover Your Breasts. Now that’s a great book. It’s factual and covers the breast cancer journey from diagnosis through to breast reconstruction.
Five years on and life is great. Neither my breast surgeon, nor the radiographer, have been able to detect any cancer in me and I hope it stays that way. I’m writing a new book now. It’s about obesity. I’m a specialist on that topic as well (decades of personal research and experience). My cancer and my obesity were inextricably linked. A friend of mine is a pathologist. That’s a medical doctor who specialises in reading cancer biopsies. She told me that if there was one thing I could do to save my life it was to lose weight. The other thing is to drink less alcohol. Preferably none, but while travelling the parallel universe we learn that it’s pretty dumb to give up everything we love. What’s the point? Just do things in moderation.
Alcohol and breast cancer
New Zealand makes great wines. Sadly, there is very little publicity about the effect that alcohol has on us. Breast cancer rates are increasing and young women are drinking a lot more than they used to. I suspect one day that alcohol will be regarded as a drug as harmful as cigarette smoking. Many women are unable to break alcohol down properly. Acetaldehyde ends up in breast tissue and sometimes the breast cells eventually become cancerous. It’s very sad that so few women are aware of the association between alcohol, obesity and cancer.
The purpose of this column was to talk about money and the importance of having a decent life insurance programme in place. Last week I was forwarded an e-mail from a woman call Natalie Murphy. Her website is www.helpnat.com. Natalie has stage 4 cancer. She is terminally ill and will be leaving a gorgeous little boy and a devoted husband behind. This is tragic.
Natalie describes her journey in detail and I connected with it. Her treatment was very similar to mine. Bloody awful. I know just what she was going through. The only difference was that I was ‘lucky’ and Natalie wasn’t.
Natalie’s website invites you to make a donation to support her son and husband who is only working part time so that he can spend more time caring for her. It would be so stressful to know you are terminally ill and also know the financial devastation that your illness is causing your family.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Why didn’t Natalie have trauma and life insurance? She is married to a wonderful man and has a son. Did they ever think of having life insurance? Did they ever talk with an insurance adviser? Did they have a conversation about insurance and decide that because they were well and healthy they didn’t need any and it was better to invest their money on their mortgage?
I have no idea.
I have seen several situations like Natalie’s over the years and I always wonder if they never knew about how to protect their families or if they had such a positive outlook on life they knew they would never have a need for insurance. How had they managed to escape from having an interview with an insurance broker?
In 1983 after I completed an insurance training course my friends said I had been brainwashed. I was speaking with far too much enthusiasm about life insurance. It was created to protect widows and children. Well, 28 years later, if it’s brainwashing I’m proud of it. Insurance makes a wonderful difference to someone with cancer.
The last thing you would want to do when you are seriously ill would be to figure out how to raise funds to pay for your medication. In Natalie’s case she had been ‘stuffed around’ a bit too much in the public health system. If she had had private health insurance she would have received her treatment much faster and sometimes this can make a difference between life and death. Statistically there is a 1% likelihood of cancer travelling from the breast every week. The sooner the tumour is removed the better. When I was diagnosed I had a mastectomy a week later. I had private health insurance and saw the specialists very quickly. Waiting is cruel at that time.
This column is not about whether or not we should have private health insurance and if we did surely the Government could make our premiums tax deductible given we are reducing the costs of the public health system. It’s the simple fact that our health system has inefficiencies and too many people need to use it. Kiwis do not want to pay prohibitive amounts of tax, like 70 cents in the dollar, in exchange for a welfare system that provides excellent care for everyone. It’s up to us to fund the care we need.
If Natalie had had life insurance she would have peace of mind that her husband and son would be financially protected. A young woman died in Christchurch last year. She was only 28. Her breast cancer had moved to her brain. She left a son and a husband just like Natalie. She also left them in a brand new debt free home.
When you have life insurance a terminal illness benefit can be paid out. This means that when a medical specialist says you are most likely to die within 12 months the life insurance will be paid out while you are still alive. The young woman in Christchurch used that money to build a home for her loved ones. You could also use the money to take your whole family for a wonderful holiday, say a cruise. You can do a lot more when you have insurance.
A friend/client is booked to have a mastectomy in January and then she will start chemotherapy. She has income protection insurance which means she has peace of mind about her income continuing whether or not her employment will continue. She is talking about where she will travel in Europe after her chemotherapy. She also has health insurance so she can have the treatment she chooses to have when she wants it rather than being told what to do at a time convenient to others not necessarily her.
Two weeks after my cancer diagnosis a trauma payment was paid into my bank account. How did we spend the money? Paying off or reducing the mortgage? That’s one option. The first thing we did was purchase a ride on lawnmower. Then some lovely diamond earrings and just before chemotherapy started we booked a Pacific cruise.
Money can’t make you happy
They say money doesn’t make you happy but I think only poor people say that. If you are ill with cancer you may as well be financially secure and enjoy yourself by being pampered, going shopping and travelling.
If I had had more trauma cover I probably would have gone to a retreat like The Golden Door in Australia where you spend about 8 days being seriously pampered. Massages, yoga, facials, health food, meditation etc. I would have gone with my husband but it seemed just a tad out of my comfort zone. Insurance for me was fairly costly because I was 52 when I was diagnosed. That’s why I didn’t have as much trauma cover as I should have. Ideally I would have had enough to clear the debt on our investment mortgages and pay for medication that wasn’t available on our public health system and travel to a specialist in another country if I needed to (I didn’t) and also go shopping (I needed that, had it and I shopped).
Is it expensive? I don’t think so. A 35 year old non-smoking woman would only pay $71.67 per month for $500,000 of life insurance that included $300,000 of trauma cover. Imagine how useful that money would be if she was terminally ill with cancer. Pay off the mortgage of say $350,000 and have $150,000 left to go shopping with (example only). If she was like me only having a mastectomy and chemotherapy she would be paid a trauma benefit of $300,000. The money is very very useful.
Sometimes people say they can’t afford to have insurance. If you can’t afford it you can’t afford not to have it. A multi-millionaire like Bob Jones can probably manage quite well without insurance but for normal people like you and me (assuming you are normal ) I think it’s essential. I have seen far too many people stress out when they are ill because they are so worried about how they will be able to continue to meet their financial commitments.
The only time you can get insurance is when you’re healthy. The time when you cannot imagine ever being ill is the time you need to apply for insurance. You would be surprised how many people contact me after they have been diagnosed with a serious illness. You can’t insure your house after it has burned down and you can’t insure your life after you have been diagnosed with cancer.
If you would like an obligation free insurance quote please call me on 0800 593 6737 (0800 Lyfords).
This column was written by Alison Renfrew; breast cancer survivor, author of Cover Your Breasts, Authorised Financial Adviser.
 Today it’s there to protect you first. To protect your income and pay for things you need if you suffer a serious illness. Then its there to protect widows, widowers, and children.
 Money doesn’t make you happy but it’s way up there with oxygen.