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FEARLESS FRIDAY: What to Do, How to Help, & How to Not Completely Freak Out

By Amalah

Dearest Amalah,
If there was ever a time in my life that I was in need of advice, it is now. Three weeks ago my mom found a lump in her breast. Two weeks ago the biopsy came back malignant. Next week she’s going in for surgery. This is a whole lot of change to happen in three weeks, and I’m shell shocked, to say the least. And so my question is, well, what the hell do I do now? What can I expect in the next weeks, months, years? I’m trying to figure out how to keep my own life togeter, be a support for my mother, sisters, brother, father, and also give myself time and permission to grieve this situation.
I spent the first week fully exhausted from the stress of it all. The second week had a few “angry days” (as seen here) and now, I’m just lost. I am feeling powerless and scared and I just don’t know what to do. And while I feel more alone than I ever have before, I know that there are hundreds of women out there who have been affected by breast cancer, and unfortunately there are hundreds more who will be someday. What can I do to feel like I have some semblance of control in a situation that leaves a family so powerless? Any suggestions on good books/websites/anything that would be a place to start educating myself on all of this? (Because typing “invasive lobular breast cancer” into google is not the best way to begin the search, this I have found.)
The other part of this is, what can I do for my mom? (Besides just being there for her, crying together and eating cupcakes.) We’re having a “boob voyage!” party this weekend that will consist of my two sisters,
my mother, chocolate, and lots of rum. In addition to the emotional support, what kinds of things can I do to pamper her and her new body?
We won’t know if she’ll need chemo until after the full pathology report, but if she does, are there any ‘typical’ changes (besides the obvious hair loss) that the body goes through during chemo? Any clothing lines that cater to women who have had breast cancer related surgeries? Any skin (hair?) care products that are especially gentle or
helpful for any potential skin problems that might crop up?
My mom always joked that at 50 she was going to get her breasts done (she nursed 4 kids, for 6-12 months each, and could use a little lift) and hey, now it’s covered by insurance! She turns fifty this May, and we’re looking forward to it as a new beginning for her and for us all.
So, thanks for letting me ramble on, and now I turn it over to you (and the AlphaFoxyMamas?) to offer anything you can possibly think of to help soften the mighty blow that’s hit my family. I know this is a tall order, but any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks much,
Meghan

Well, first things first: I’m really sorry. Really and deeply sorry this happened to your family.
Second things second: You will GET THROUGH THIS. Hurdle by hurdle; test by test; day by day.
tattoo_large_lg.jpgObviously, every family is different, and we all use different coping mechinisms. So I’m just going to tell you what worked for me and my family in the days and months after my mom’s cancer diagnosis.
Don’t focus on her cancer. Being informed and educated is important, but there’s a very hazy line between “researching” and “fixating,” as you probably already learned after your trip to Google University. Whenever I encountered some medical-talky-speak I didn’t understand, I checked out the Susan G. Komen site (scroll down to the “Helping You” section) or the American Cancer Society. Both sites are helpful, direct and — above all — not overwhelming.
I didn’t buy any books on cancer because I couldn’t bear having them on my nightstand, honestly. (I was also pregnant, and therefore neurotic enough, thankyouverymuch.) But a book I wish I’d read at the time was (pardon the Oprah-self-help tangent here) Arianna Huffington’s On Becoming Fearless. I know, I know. On the surface, it’s a book about relationships and work and how we all hold ourselves back. But it’s a good book about being strong, for yourself and for others and refusing to let fear rule your life and impact your decisions. And like I said — don’t focus on your mom’s cancer. That’s fear. Focus on your mom. And life. And good things. That’s fearlessness.
Okay. Now let’s get down to the practical stuff.
Post-surgery, your mom is going to need the softest and most comfortable pajamas you can find. Cushiony socks and slippers, a nice robe for when she feels better, you get the idea.
My mom didn’t have to do chemo, thank God, so I don’t have any first-hand recommendations for headscarves or hats. Commenters? Anyone? I have heard very good things about the Lindi Skin Care line, though. It’s designed specifically for chemo and radiation patients.
As for post-surgery-post-everything clothing, even if your mother opts not to surgically reconstruct her breast, she’ll just want to wear “normal” clothes. Trust me on that. Her insurance should cover her bras and a prothesis, and will give her a list of local places she can buy these at. (This isn’t something you want to order online. Custom is waaaay better.) Mastectomy swimsuits are also available. My mom found the boutique in her area to be absolutely wonderful — staffed with other survivors who cared deeply about helping every woman look her best. But other than that, take her shopping at her favorite stores. A mastectomy won’t define her, so if she’s always been a Talbot’s or Chico’s or whatever sort of lady, that’s what she’ll still want to be.
Someone else gave my mom a really pretty breast cancer bracelet (similar to one of these), and she wears it every day. That’s her reminder, and that’s all she needs.
It actually sounds like your family is doing a lot of things right already. You obviously care very deeply, and you’re all pulling together. (I absolutely love that you threw a Boob Voyage party for your mom by the way. Absolutely love that.) Take care of each other. Don’t let anyone view this as a death sentence, because it’s NOT. More women are surviving breast cancer than ever. You will GET THROUGH THIS, and maybe this time next year, you and your mom and your sisters will be doing a breast cancer walk together, to help other families just like yours have the same happy ending.
You know, a commenter left a really similar question over at my personal site — just a couple days after you sent your email. Another mother having a masectomy and another daughter struggling to know what to do. I’m going to include some advice that another commenter left, because it’s really good stuff. (Especially for daughters who aren’t geographically close to their mothers and might feel a little helpless in that regard.) Thank you, Brid, for sharing all your ideas.

Call her every day and tell her the stupid stuff that happens — the driver who turned left from four lanes over in the right turn lane, or the person behind you at the grocery store who bought four cans of spam and a cucumber. Just short little talks about normal things.
Send her real mail. Email is great, but there’s nothing like getting actual mail. Not sappy sympathy cards but letters on stationary or cards with cute animals, beautiful flowers, or funny sayings. You can even clip comics out of the paper to send.
Carepackages: something small like a pretty color of nail polish or one of those soothing eyemasks. or something bigger like a lighthearted book or a pair of slippers. or something compeltely random that just makes you think of her.
Food-wise, eating can be a big deal. If you know family or friends in the area, getting them to do grocery shopping or bring over a meal would be great. Even if your mom doesn’t feel like eating, she might be the person normally in charge of making meals and having something there for others will keep her from worrying.
Don’t worry (too much) about not being able to be there physically. Your comment shows that you love and care for you mom.

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Secha
Guest

First off, I want to say I’m so sorry to hear that you have to go through this. It’s scary. *hugs* My aunt had… I think it was lymphoma. (Sorry, the spelling is probably horrible) and she lost all of her hair. She was always one to have very pretty accesories to go with whatever she was wearing, so she asked my mom to make her a bunch of headscarves. They were all in pretty, vibrant colors, in a silky material. It cheered her up, a lot. When she wasn’t wearing her wig (which was important, since my uncle is… Read more »

Anne Glamore
Guest

I’ll make this practical, but here’s my .02. 1. You and your sisters will have different strengths so divvy up stuff according to them. If one of you is skeeved out by hospitals, she should not be driving your mom to chemo. Let her coordinate dinners or whatever. 2. I think 2 people, the patient and another person, need to be present at all medical appts to make sure you get all the info and ask all the questions. Take notes. 3. Do not be afraid to ask questions. 4. Stay off the internet– especially your mom. If it gets… Read more »

Kathleen
Guest

When I was 16, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes, so a long summer of chemo followed. She has been cancer-free for 10 years now, thank God. I was my mom’s at-home caregiver during that time, since my parents were divorced and she and I lived alone. It is a very intense process but, like Amy said, you will get through it. In terms of the surgery, ditto on the gorgeous pajamas/robe/slippers. I know that helped my mom to feel somewhat pretty/normal during the time after her… Read more »

TheHolls
Guest

I’m a newspaper health reporter, so I’ve interviewed and written about lots of women with breast cancer over the years. Here’s a few tips that come to mind, gleaned from those encounters (sorry to if I’m long-winded, Amy!): 1. If you want a book (for you, your sisters or your mom), Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book is awesome. It’s updated almost every year, so it’s got all the latest info on the fast-moving science involved in things like HER-2 breast cancers, etc etc. 2. If any of you are techie, there’s a cool new resource at http://www.podcastGO.com that offers breast… Read more »

Meghan
Guest

Thank you all so much for the comments, and to everyone who has stopped over at my site. I am just overwhelmed, and I knew that if I posed this issue to ‘teh internets’ there would be awesome smart people who could offer their experiences. I’m at the hospital right now using the free WiFi (sweet!) to check email and I started to cry when I read the full post to my mother. The update is that she is looking awesome, she had saline expanders put in to begin the reconstruction process, and she will in fact need chemo. I’m… Read more »

Secha
Guest

Oh, another thing I meant to mention up above. One of my co-workers wife just finished up her treatments from breast cancer, and just had her breast reconstruction done. He came over and told me on Tuesday that she’s going to go get a tattoo done, and when I asked of what, he said a nipple. So, right now it may be hard, but once she’s fully recovered, then it’s just something that makes her stronger, and possibly have a sense of humor about it. =) It also gives you a whole new outlook on life, and the little things… Read more »

Ewokmama
Guest

First, I’m really sorry. Cancer is nasty stuff. All I can say is to hang in there.
Second, a product that might help with the pampering is Philosophy’s Shower for the Cure shower gel. It’s a shampoo/bodywash combo that is supposed to have a mild scent for those going through treatment. Also, part of the purchase goes toward funding research.

lauralaylin
Guest

The part about nice pjs made me think of this site. I don’t own them so I don’t know if they’re good first hand, but they sure sound nice. I’m sorry I can’t be more of a help, good luck with everything though!
http://www.bodylinens.com/

thepaperdoll
Guest

i lost my mom to ovarian cancer a year and a half ago after a very long battle. two surgeries. rounds and rounds of chemo. nine month hoptial stays. the thing that helped us the most through all of it was embracing every emotion we felt and being very open about it all. we laughed a lot. we cried a lot. we celebrated life most of all. simple pleasures became so important. the things that helped most were: 1.great thick nice socks. 2.nice work out type clothes. my mom had lots of vistors and she wasn’t really up to getting… Read more »

cce
Guest
cce

I know it may seem a world away but by this time next year you and your Mom will be through all this and having fun coming up with a name for your breast cancer walkathon team (we decided on Walking Abreast).
A good book for your Mom right now is Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy.
Wishing your Mom luck and wellness.

Sarah Marie
Guest

Thankfully no one close to me has ever had to go through chemo and lose their hair. I’ve always kinda admired the “F*CK CANCER” knit caps that I’ve seen around, which provide a smidge of humor with a tiny twinge of anger. Just my two cents. All the best to your mom and your family, and to all of the survivors/victims of cancer!

Chunky Photojournalist Barbie
Guest
Chunky Photojournalist Barbie

Several years ago, I had a very serious life-threatening illness (not cancer) that lasted about eight months. My boyfriend gave me “Big Trouble,” a fiction novel by humor writer Dave Barry. IT. IS. HILARIOUS. And kind of mindless and not in any way, shape or form about relevant topics, which is why I’m telling you about it. It was the only thing that made me smile during that time. (And I had a puppy. Just sayin.’) I worked with Dave for a little while at the Miami Herald about a year or two after my recovery, and I told him… Read more »

Melissa
Guest
Melissa

Although many people think massages are great, we couldn’t do anything soothing like that until my aunt’s skin healed from radiation. So we offered manicures (there are services that will come to the house). Maybe your mom has a favorite chemo/radiation appropriate spa treatment? Head scarves, lots of ’em in pretty colors. We went all out and got a cashmere robe and blanket. Something similarly warm/comfy would be great. Why they keep hospital rooms so cold is beyond me. Designate a person or two the “news sharer.” Everyone wants to check in and see how the person is faring, but… Read more »

Peggasus
Guest
Peggasus

My Mom had a lumpectomy 10 years ago, along with removal of a number of lymph nodes. Afterwards, she had radiation over a 3 month period. The cancer came back, and she had a mastectomy last September (same breast). One thing I didn’t know was that one can only have a certain amount of radiation in a lifetime, so that was not an option again, so she had chemo for four months. One good thing her oncologist mentioned was that the chemo drugs have come a long way, and not everyone loses their hair (my mom did not). That, of… Read more »

Meghan
Guest

Almost a month later I am still receiving visits at my site from the wonderful and kind women (and men!) who frequent this site. My head is still spinning, and I have every intention to thank the people who have reached out personally to me, but I just wanted to leave a little thank you here for any readers who might stumble upon the archives and are reading this all for the first time. Since I wrote the email that was posted above my mom has completed her surgery (bilateral mastectomy) and the pathology report showed that the lump was… Read more »