None of my close friends, who are in their 20s and 30s, had ever faced a challenge like breast cancer. They werent prepared; no one is.
There were friends and family whom I expected to be there to support me, but werent. I struggled with that a bit.
Im going back to Colombia for the next few months, one friend said a few weeks after my diagnosis last year.
You are going to be going away during what are likely to be the worst months of my life, I said. I couldnt believe she would make that decision. I know that if the roles had been reversed, I would not have left her side.
Many of my relationships have changed. A session with a psychologist this year helped me see that not every one can handle the challenge of breast cancer.
A diagnosis can be very difficult for family and friends to process. Some are in denial, others just dont have the coping skills required to be supportive, said a psychologist at the University of Miamis Courtelis Center for Psychosocial Oncology.
Unless you have gone through the experience, it is not easy to understand. Breast cancer survivors were the lighthouses in the middle of my storm. And even they didnt always know what to do. Sometimes a cancer patient needs company; other times we want to be alone.
You have to speak up and ask people for what you need, one cancer survivor said.
It has been six months since I completed radiation therapy. I am still recovering from last years chemotherapy. And I am dealing with pain from the surgery and the cancer-prevention drug I am to take for five years.
There is no way for those who arent very close to me to know how my life has changed.
Before breast cancer I enjoyed spending time with friends at sea and loved going to pool parties at hotels in Miami Beach. This weekend two friends invited me to go out on their boats. I declined, saying that I had other plans. I didnt feel like explaining that treatment has left my skin very sensitive to the sun.
Cancer patients become anti-social for months. They need practical help. During chemotherapy, wigs and scarfs help cover hair loss. After breast removal, comfortable shirts that button in the front are needed. During radiation, alcohol-free aloe helps to sooth the skin.
If your friend, relative or co-worker is undergoing cancer treatment, refrain from giving treatment advice. Allow doctors and specialists to do their jobs.
Instead, if you want to help, take them to appointments, visit them, and bring a healthy meal.
For the most part, love surrounded me. Here are some of the best things people did for me while I was in need:
• A former supervisor hired a cleaning lady to help me once a week.
• Friends drove me to doctors appointments and helped me to take notes.
• My mom slept over five days after every chemotherapy cycle, cooked light healthy food, and kept liters of water with lemon handy for me to drink.
• My brother got me a Wii console, which allowed me to exercise indoors.
• A breast cancer survivor and a co-worker got me a fabulous book by cartoonist Marisa Acocella Marchetto, The Cancer Vixen: A True Story. The book was funny.
• Coworkers and friends filled my hospital room with flowers and stuffed animals, including a giant Teddy bear.
• Facebook friends sent me books.
• Friends and co-workers participated in 5-K and marathon runs with my name on their tags. This filled me with encouragement.
• Some people called regularly, which made me feel less alone.
Remember that random acts of kindness can make a huge difference. A cancer patient needs lots of help and caretakers are likely to need a break.
Many people supported me and I will forever be grateful for that.