All too often we hear the story of breast cancer survivors whose loved ones couldn't cope with the diagnosis, treatment, surgery, radiation, side affects, scarring etc., and were so overwhelmed that they left the relationship. What follows is a brief descriptive characterizing the role of a care giver and the value it represents to the patient. This precedes the narrative of breast cancer survivor Krystle Hansley, whose relationship with her loved one fell apart due to the onset of Breast Cancer. In the future we will follow up with a more extensive Caregivers Guideline.
Characteristics of care giving
There are many characteristics of life as a caregiver. The support that one provides to a cancer patient/survivor includes many of the following: emotional, physical, intellectual, financial, social, spiritual, nutritional, and motivational aspects to name just a few. But you are never alone. There is help and assistance everywhere. I found the following links to be quite helpful in coming to terms with my role as a caregiver.
From diagnosis onward the responsibilities associated with caregiving kick in. There are meetings and discussions with your oncological and surgical teams. Options and alternative courses of action are proffered and weighed. Decisions have to be made in short order so it’s best to prepare yourself ahead of time by performing as much due diligence as you can. Do your research on the various options as spelled out by your team. Once a course of action is agreed upon and plotted take particular care to stay on top of developments, I.e. scheduled appointments, pain/emotional management, medications, coordinating and communicating information to the extended caregiving family, and helping with chores.
At all times be aware that you are there to assist the patient. This isn’t about you. Involve yourself with the patient’s emotional issues. You do not need to be a medical professional. Common sense and responding through the lens of caregiving should provide you with enough tools to deal with the myriad emotions that arise, such as fear and depression/sadness. There are many support groups that you can reach out to, including hospital care groups, psychiatrists, social/media pages, #survivingbreastcancer.org.
Guest Blogger Krystle Hansley,
At the start of the summer in 2016, I was in the “prime” of my life. I had a prestigious research fellowship working on a HIV vaccination project at Tulane University; I was entering my last semester of graduate school, and I spent my weekends strolling down the lively streets of New Orleans. Everything was perfect, or so it seemed. Little did I know that a storm was coming. Within a few weeks, everything would change -- forever. On July 15, 2016, while sitting on the same bed where I had spent countless hours studying some of the world’s deadliest diseases, I received a phone call that would throw my whole world into disarray. That day, at the ripe age of 27, I was diagnosed breast cancer.
One of my very first phone calls was to my then-boyfriend. We had been together for a year, spent holidays together, and even discussed what we would name our future children. I imagined that he was going to be my primary support system; compassionate, understanding, and an impenetrable presence.
A minute into the phone conversation, he hung up on me, frustrated at the notion that I might not come home to North Carolina to be treated. That should have been my first red flag, but I had seen The Fault in Our Stars and I knew we would be okay. He even promised that he would never leave me. That means something, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t Hollywood and I wasn’t Hazel Lancaster.
Our relationship started to spiral downward, and very quickly. In fact, deep, down inside I knew as soon as a month after my diagnosis that “forever” wasn’t going to happen, but I held on.
-Even after he laughed at me and called me pathetic when I had trouble getting into the car a week after my 10-hour mastectomy surgery, drains distending from my sides, I held on.
-Even after our fight because I had to shave my head when my hair wouldn’t stop falling out, I held on.
-Even after sitting through a 5-hour chemo, crying, because a fight had gotten so bad that he shoved me into the car door, 10 minutes prior to walking through the cancer hospital door, I held on.
-Even after he told me he would rather not spend New Years with me because I wouldn’t be any fun due to a chemo infusion I had a few days before, I held on.
In retrospect, in the beginning, I do think he cared. However, ultimately, it was too overwhelming for him.
Cancer is messy.
It’s dark and scary
It forces you to face your own mortality.
Want to know a secret? It’s like that for you AND the people around you.
It is, indeed, something that not everyone can handle and you know what? That’s okay.
However, over the past two years, I’ve learned that I would rather surround myself with people who CAN handle it. I would rather be with a man who understands that I’m worth more than a phone call, two days before a surgery, telling me that he no longer wanted to be in a serious relationship because the past 6 months had been too hard on him and he was too young to be going through such a trying ordeal.
I WAS worth more than that and just to be clear; YOU are worth more than that. You are worth someone who will lay on the bathroom floor with you when the chemo starts to kick in, but your nausea medications don’t. You are worth someone who will parade you around a college basketball game with your bald head like a full moon shining. You are worth someone who brings you your favorite snacks during chemo, even if you end up hating them after (it’s the thought that counts). You are worth someone who tells you they will not leave you, and means it.
The situation with my ex devastated me. It broke me into a million little pieces. In fact, it thrusted me into a dark depression; one I thought I’d never get out of. But you know what?
Two years later, I’m still here. Thanks to people who didn’t give up on me, and still don’t. Thanks to friends who broke into my apartment when I was so sedated on Oxy that I couldn’t get off the couch, much less communicate with anyone for 24 hours. Thanks to my family and closest friends who WILL sit on the bathroom floor with me when I think I’m dying. And last, but definitely not least, to a newfound Faith in God and the blessing that He bestowed upon me when He removed my ex from my life. I still have “those” days; those days when I wallow in self pity, but at the end of the day, I know a brand new one is coming. So, I pick myself off the floor, straighten my crown, and keep it moving.
I haven’t done a health update lately so here is the latest after my appointment with my oncologist today:
As I’ve previously mentioned, neither one of my oncologists want me to carry a baby due to several factors including my hormone status and BRCA mutation. My BRCA mutation not only gave me a higher chance of breast cancer, but also, a much higher chance of ovarian cancer (mine is 40%, the normal population is around 1%)
Ovary removal is recommended for BRCA+ mutants. After careful consideration, I’m contemplating getting mine out sooner rather than later. Sooner being May of this year. If I decide to do this, I will be giving up the chance to ever conceive naturally.
I’m asking that you all please pray for guidance because this is a huge decision and one that would change my life, forever.