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We can take steps to support those struggling with breast cancer

Awareness: trying to understand the heart of the issue of Breast Cancer (and trust your instincts)

October 19, 2016

During this month of Breast Cancer Awareness, there is a lot of information about the symptoms, facts and statistics in diagnosing breast cancer, but there is so much more.

For those that have fought, supported and mourned this terrible disease it seems equally important to share the heart of the issue. The burden of fear, pain and anger. The appreciation of love and kindness.  Emotions of hope and despair are often accompanied together and take their toll.

While it seems impossible to experience all these emotions at once - that is how a woman recently diagnosed feels. Every journey is unique and as special as the woman surrounding it.  It isn’t pretty. It is a terribly painful, life altering event, and it sucks!

Charmaine Norton was diagnosed this past June 2016 after noticing an “indent above the nipple of her right breast.” The following weeks of anticipation then diagnosis for her include shock, fear and confusion then focusing on the unfairness of her family.

She is a wife, mother, daughter, sister, grand-daughter, niece, friend, and a co-worker.  She is exhausted but worries about finances, health and the future. This all can become consuming. There isn’t enough time in the day to keep up. With so many relying on her, life must go on with some semblance of normality.

This disease leaves a circle of grief surrounding a woman who suspects and/or eventually diagnosed. Some advice from those that have been there is to educate yourself, build a support network and rely on them to help as well as stop sweating the small stuff. 

Having a Cancer Crew who actively participates in supporting really helps. This generosity refills the spirit. Ms. Norton shares she had to “acknowledge my shortcomings and be open to help from my husband and community. We wouldn’t be surviving anywhere near as well as we are without numerous generous people stepping into our lives and allowing them to help in their ways.”

Putting pride aside, the outpouring of both physical and financial support comes with donations of money, cleaning, making meals and holding their hand during treatment to shaving heads and Breast Cancer walks and races. These gestures of support life their hearts in so many ways. 

Being aware that grieving creates a bubble of numbness while coping and raises sensitivity. Ms. Norton explains, “watching the world go by, and seeing my friends and family go on with their normal lives and routines, while mine spiraled more and more out of control, was extremely isolating.”

At the same time, those who are in the inner support network struggle with their own feelings of fear and want to help. How they choose to help those impacted by breast cancer is very important as to what, when and why they support. Deann Ware, Ph.D. explains, “Don’t insert your own grief, anger, or preferred coping mechanisms into someone else’s crisis.”

Emotionally, those who are impacted need to be able to feel safe and freely “dump” their emotions onto those closest to them but they should express those feelings to those further out the circle.  As part of the support network, humbling themselves to those closer to the recently diagnosed or survivor.

One of our Pierce College Professor’s, Dorene Paulson, is a Breast Cancer survivor.  She expressed the best way to support her in direct terms, “Treat me just like everyone else. No matter how curious you are about that bald sick-looking lady, don’t ask! Give me a dose of ‘I’m normal-you’re normal.”

            Being aware doesn’t simply involve knowing the signs, facts or statistics. It is also aiming for true understanding of the heart with listening and compassion.  Often times, the reaction is to respond to crises in a more inward thought process. There is a strong desire to do something.

Ms. Paulson states it rather well. “Trust that if I need help, I will ask. Trust that if I want to talk about it, I will. If I vent or cry or rage, give me permission to. Be a shoulder and a good listener. I need to release those bad emotions. I deserve a good cry now and then! When it’s done, I’m bound to crack a pink joke and kick a little ass.”

Surprisingly, in listening to women who have struggled with this, it seems they really just want to be heard and for someone to hold their hand knowing it can’t be fixed today.

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