Breast Cancer Awareness Month is upon us once again. This is the month to turn product packaging pink, to share “what color is your bra?” memes on Facebook, and to pay lip service to awareness.
October used to be my favorite month. The air turns cool, jeans and hoodies are in season again, and the leaves are colorful and crunchy underfoot. Since being diagnosed with breast cancer at 28, though, I’m over Pinktober.
According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 232,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2015. Of these, approximately 70,000 women and men are between the ages of 15 and 39 (Young Survival Coalition). Each of these women and men who are going through cancer treatment have family and friends – cosurvivors – who are going through it with them. So what can you do instead of pinkwashing? Some suggestions for helping the survivor, the cosurvivor, and the larger community:
- Just spend time with them: show up with a silly movie, a bottle of gatorade, and an easy-to-stomach dinner (or whatever they can keep down).
- Offer to do the practical things: shop for groceries, do the laundry, mow the lawn. These simple things can be a big burden to someone who doesn’t feel well, or the cosurvivors who find themselves having to keep up with all the household chores.
- Understand if they want to be alone, or don’t want to talk about it.
- Give the cosurvivor(s) a break. Many feel that they need to be with their loved one at all times, and don’t get the time they need to recharge. Show up and send them out for some alone time, or just give them a chance to sleep
- Offer rides to chemo and radiation.
- Donate to one of the many organizations providing practical support to families dealing with cancer treatment. Organizations like the Pink Daisy Project accept donations that are used for things like gas cards and grocery gift cards, helping families suffering from the financial burden associated with cancer treatment, exactly when they need it.
- Support organizations like the Young Survival Coalition that support individuals before, during, and after treatment and also advocate to the political and medical communities. The YSC is one of my personal favorites, since breast cancer in young women is often diagnosed later and may be more aggressive, but there are many wonderful organizations out there that put most of their funds directly into helping the people who need it.
As someone who has been there, remember that your loved one probably needs help with the practical things, but might also want things to be as normal as possible. Listen to her cry if she needs it, but don’t push if she doesn’t. Offering concrete suggestions, rather than just “what can I do” might be more helpful. She probably doesn’t want to be a burden – let her know she isn’t.