In Honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

How to Support Your Friend with Breast Cancer

Posted by Nancy Lee on October 21, 2023

I received an email recently signed “Beth, Your Friendly Cancer Awareness Advocate” asking me to share information with my readers for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I was intrigued by her cheery signature. I emailed her back, and she and I emailed back and forth a few times. I found Beth’s personal story behind her cancer advocacy work inspiring. It didn’t work out for me to set up a phone interview with her, but Beth gave me permission to share excerpts from her emails. Here is Beth’s story in her own words:

My journey into the world of cancer advocacy began with a moment that changed my life forever. It was a crisp autumn day, much like today, when I received a call that my dearest friend, Sarah, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Sarah was not just a friend; she was a pillar of strength in my life.

As we navigated the bewildering maze of treatments, emotions, and uncertainty, I witnessed firsthand the incredible resilience of the human spirit. Sarah's determination and courage in the face of adversity inspired me deeply.

Throughout her battle, I became a constant presence by her side, attending doctor's appointments, offering a shoulder to cry on, and researching every possible resource to make her journey a little easier. Along the way, I discovered the power of knowledge, support, and community in the fight against cancer.

Sarah's battle was fierce, but she emerged as a survivor, her spirit unbroken. Her victory became my motivation to do more, to give back, and to make a positive impact on the lives of others affected by cancer.

That's when I embarked on my path as a Cancer Awareness Advocate. My mission is simple yet profound: to empower survivors, support caregivers, and stand by those who are still fighting. I believe that by sharing knowledge, resources, and stories of hope, we can make a difference, one person at a time.

I think we can all agree that every cancer patient could use a Beth in their life. Beth’s story has made me wonder how I, how we all can do better in supporting the many women who are battling breast cancer. I reached out to three of my friends who have been on a breast cancer journey this year.

Robin’s Story: Robin’s breast cancer was caught early during a routine mammogram in March of this year. Robin described her cancer experience as a whirlwind. “My doctor got me in immediately for a biopsy, and I had surgery a month later. I had five days of radiation in June, and then I was considered cancer-free.”

Robin said it was overwhelming, but she was grateful for the nurse navigator at her hospital who helped her through the medical maze. The one thing Robin said would have helped is a support group. It would have encouraged her to connect with someone going through the same experience. When she was having radiation, Robin overheard another woman who had a much longer treatment plan ask about a support group and was told that there were none. 

One area of frustration for Robin was the disconnect between the insurance company and the medical community. She submitted paperwork over and over again. It was months before her disability was approved and she received a payment. “What if I wasn’t married and was living on my own? I would have had nothing to live off for months. These workers need to realize that people are relying on them.”

Robin realizes that her case is different than so many women who need longer treatment plans. “I am grateful mine was caught early," she said, “and I want to encourage all women to get screened.”

Ginny’s Story: Ginny was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of January of this year. Like Robin, she describes her cancer journey as a whirlwind. Ginny was given a biopsy and had surgery. She developed an infection and ended up in the hospital again. She had a second surgery and then was declared cancer-free in July.

Ginny is so grateful for her friends and family who surrounded her during her cancer journey. Ginny had a network of friends that reached out to her. “I was surrounded by love. I was never alone,” Ginny said. Ginny’s daughter, who is a nurse, came to be with her during her surgery and for a few days after, then her son came. After that, her daughter bought a ticket for a friend to fly in and stay for a week, then her whole community reached out to her. 

“The thought of driving into the city overwhelmed me, so one of my friends drove me to every single appointment. People brought in meals, cleaned my house, and stayed with me until I was healed,” Ginny said. “And people were praying for me all over the country. God is so good. I saw so many answers to prayers.”

“The important thing,” Ginny said, “is to surround yourself with love and support—people who have a positive outlook and who will encourage you.”

The one area Ginny is struggling with in the aftermath of her cancer journey is negotiating the bills and insurance. Just figuring out what she owes is confusing to her because everything is done virtually by a system that does not make sense to her. She would simply like to receive paper bills in the mail. She feels the billing offices should be more patient with their senior patients and spend more time helping them understand the new system.

“But God is so good. I feel so blessed. He has seen me through, and He will see me through to the end,” Ginny said.

Nancy’s story: Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. She went through 32 rounds of radiation and 12 weeks of chemotherapy, and then Nancy assumed her cancer journey was over. Looking back, Nancy doesn’t remember her doctor ever saying she was cancer-free. But she was shocked this past year when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer of the thorax.

“It knocked me off my feet,” Nancy said. “I didn’t have any understanding of metastasized cancer. I couldn’t believe it when they told me my breast cancer had spread to my thorax—the region near my diaphragm.”

Nancy is now dealing with the same struggles she went through before—becoming sick from her chemo meds, exhaustion, low white cell counts, as well as feelings of isolation and frustration over not being able to do the things that she used to. “I just need to get my life back,” Nancy said.

Nancy points out that, in the absence of family close by, God has provided. A neighbor across the street has become like a daughter to her. She is a nursing student with a four-year-old daughter who visits Nancy frequently. “Yesterday they brought their new puppy over. It was as cute as anything. Little things like that perk me up so much,” she said. 

Nancy has other neighbors who watch out for her as well. They have given her their phone numbers to call them if she ever needs anything when she is home alone while her husband is working. “Often during warm weather, neighbors will stop by and chat with me on my front porch. We do a lot of talking and laughing. It helps me feel connected.”

Nancy looks forward to visits from her pastor. He brings Nancy communion since she cannot get out to church. “We cram a lot of great conversation into the time that he is here,” she said. 

And there was a time on a particularly sad day when a friend from church who she hardly knew dropped by with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. “It is moments like that mean so much,” Nancy said.

Nancy said she loves to receive cards and phone calls. “It is all about connection. Just having contact with others is so important. I wish there was a support group in our area. There is a great need for one, but I haven’t been able to find one. How you handle your illness psychologically affects how you heal." 

When Nancy was a hairdresser for 52 years, she went above and beyond to reach out to everyone God put in her path. For example, she would pick up her elderly customers who couldn't drive and bring them back to her shop to fix their hair. Then she would take them shopping and out to lunch before dropping them back home. As a result, she had many  grandmothers, mothers, and sisters who would call her when they needed a friend. “It wasn't until I had cancer and the shoe was on the other foot that I realized how important my connection was to all those people. And I am so grateful for everyone that reaches out to me in the same way.”

What is the common thread here? Tangible help like sending meals and giving rides to appointments are important, but Robin, Ginny, and Nancy all talk about something more--the need to stay connected. The need for support. For people to reach out to them so they don’t feel alone in their journey, for someone to chat with, to listen to them, to uplift and encourage them.

My challenge for you (and me). Take a moment to consider the people around you. Who has breast cancer? Or who is a survivor? I suspect that each one of us knows at least one person in this category. Reach out to them and connect to them in whatever way you are able. A card, a phone call, a visit. Let them know they are not forgotten. Listen to them and let them know that their life is as valuable today as it was before their diagnosis. That cancer does not define them. That God has not deserted them. 


American Cancer Society

Global Breast Cancer Resources for Patients, Survivors, and Their Loved Ones

125+ Resources for Cancer Survivors, Clinics, Charities, and More

National Breast Cancer Foundation

Related Posts:

Hope Through Genetic Testing: Emily's Breast Cancer Story ,Dealing With Cancer, Katie Johnson: Teenage Caregiver,  and Finding Loveliness in Cancer.