Supporting a Friend Who Has Breast Cancer

Sheryl Kraftby Sheryl Kraft

There are fashion shows. There are walks, runs, ceremonies, benefits, pink ribbons and special luncheons. There is a month devoted to remembering. And everything pink is sold with the promise of an eventual cure.

Are they beneficial to aid the person who is going through breast cancer? Well, yes, I suppose, or else they would not exist. For one thing, they raise very necessary funds. For another, they tell the world that we exist.

But on a much more personal level is something so fundamental to the human spirit; something that sounds so simple but is, in fact, much more complicated than the word implies.

It is much more personal. It is communication and support.

If you're reading this and you've been through, or are going through, a diagnosis of breast cancer, I think you understand what I'm trying to say. And if you are reading this and have not experienced the overwhelming feelings that come with a diagnosis of breast cancer, chances are you know someone who has. And you want to help, but maybe don't know how.

I don't think I'm speaking only for myself when I say that I needed—and at times, craved—understanding from the outside world. I needed some reassurance that the other person understood, no matter how remotely, what I was faced with. And that need continues today, all these years later, because I know that I, for one, will never see the world in quite the same way as I did before my experience with breast cancer.

But the problem is that people are not always prepared to help. I used to think that many people had a hard time communicating with me because I was relatively young when I was diagnosed. Because my friends, most of them in their 30s themselves, were not yet experienced enough with illness or hardship, I concluded that they couldn't possibly know what to say to me or do for me. And, thinking back, boy, did they make blunders!

Like the woman I knew from our children's nursery school who made an obvious and abrupt about-face when she spotted me coming down the grocery aisle and again, weeks later, in the school parking lot. Or the cousin who phoned me a couple of days after I came home from the hospital and said, "I just went for my mammogram and thank goodness it was negative!" And how could I forget that call I got days after my surgery from another young mother who babbled on about what a shock it was to hear of my diagnosis because "We're all young—just like you..." Um, thanks for the reminder.

Sorry if I sound a bit peeved, but I was hurting. And what I now realize is that none of the hurt was intentional, but rather an attempt (however ill-fated) to say something— anything.