She’s always been there for you.
She’s the first call you make when you have good news; the last person you text before going to bed at night. She will give it to you straight (“Yes, your butt DOES look big in those jeans”) and will cut anyone who dares to cross you (insert: ex-boyfriend). She’s always had your back, and you’ve always returned the favour. She’s a SupportHER.
Think about the relationships you have with the most important females in your life. And think about how you relate to one another; how you communicate, and most importantly, how you support each other in times of crisis. Does it begin with a visit? A worrisome text? Does your loved one reach out to you immediately for solace and comfort? Or do you instinctively know something is off – after a phone call goes unanswered, an email ignored – and it’s up to you to uncover what is wrong.
How can you show support in a way that is acceptable, and appropriate, to the person who needs it most?
No two women are the same; some – myself included – will immediately shy away from open communication, while others will need to rely on the strength and kindness of loved ones to make it through. And for a woman who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, the need for tailored support is particularly significant.
Recently, I hosted an intimate High Tea Experience at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto. Surrounded by local influencers, and the women who support them – mothers, daughters, friends and extended family – we touched on a topic that we simply don’t discuss enough: how we can be a SupportHER. How we can be there for our loved ones who are living with breast cancer, and ensure we give them what they need (emotionally, physically and spiritually) to help see them through their treatment.
Because today, women are living with breast cancer, and they are surviving.
Breast cancer deaths have decreased by 42% since the peak in 1986. In fact, going as far back as the mid-1900s, if you were diagnosed with breast cancer, your options were severely limited.
Radical mastectomy, the removal of the breast, chest muscles and underarm lymph nodes.
Lumpectomy, removal of the tumour and a small amount of surrounding tissue.
Next came radiation and early chemotherapy. Back then, this singular approach to treating breast cancer resulted in tough-to-manage side effects such as severe nausea, bone marrow toxicity, exhaustion, and lengthy recoveries that made them diﬃcult treatments for many women to tolerate.
Scientists discovered that there is more than one type of breast cancer, heralding a new era in targeted treatments.
In the mid 80’s, scientists discovered that genetics play a key role in how breast cancer can be treated – leading to the discovery of the the HER2 gene, a genetic mutation associated with more aggressive forms of breast cancer. The discovery of this gene opened up a world of possibilities for creating targeted biologics that directly hone in on the cancerous cells and that are less likely to harm normal, healthy cells.
One in five breast cancer patients are HER2-positive.
Looping back to our event. In addition to enjoying a tantalizing spread, surrounded by friends and family, we also had the unique opportunity to hear from both Dr. Brezden-Masley, Head of Oncology at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto (background) and one of Dr. Brezden-Masley’s patients, a wonderful, spirited woman who has not just survived breast cancer… she is conquering it, day by day (foreground).
From our time together, there were two key takeaways I’d love to share with you today.
1. Be a SupportHER. Know the different ways you can offer help when someone you love needs it most. Examples of ways you can assist:
– Be a chauffeur, confidante and/or note-taker during doctor’s appointments.
– Make introductions; offer the names of people you know who have been in similar situations and who would be willing to share their experiences.
– Be direct; ask how you can help. Give suggestions of what you can provide (meals, childcare, etc). Don’t assume help is or isn’t needed.
– Don’t be shy to call. If your loved one does not feel like talking, you can leave a message so she knows you’re thinking of her.
2. Knowledge is power! 54% of breast cancer patients believe that NOT knowing all the treatment options is the biggest barrier breast cancer patients face with receiving treatment in Canada. In fact, despite all the advances in research, 4.4 million Canadians don’t know about targeted treatments!
Start at HERHistory.ca. Here, you’ll find up-to-date information on treatments, a copy of the HER History Report, and reference links that you may find helpful.
I admit that I need to work on both giving – and accepting – support. As someone who shies away from the awkward, I find it difficult to place myself in a position of vulnerability. However, if I had to offer one coping mechanism, I’d say that a cup of tea with girlfriends goes a long way.
Special thanks to the attendees of SupportHer, and to all back home who followed our event and contributed to the social chatter. Photos in this post were taken by the talented Diana Mancuso.