It's October. It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We're all aware of that.
We're also aware that one in eight American women are diagnosed with breast cancer -- 246,000 women in 2016 alone. Here's something you're not aware of: one in three of us will have a mother, sister, daughter or wife diagnosed with breast cancer.
I've had a mom, sister, and wife who had breast cancer. I never had a daughter.
With the U.S. population at 324 million, there will be 106.3 million of us who will have a mom, sister, daughter or wife hear those dreaded words: "it's malignant." That's a lot of caregivers out there. They need help and guidance on what to do for their loved ones as she goes through surgery, breast reconstruction, chemo, and radiation. They also need help for themselves on how to deal with such a difficult and traumatic situation, and how to overcome these obstacles and become an amazing caregiver for their loved ones.
Sadly, there really isn't a lot of guidance out there for breast cancer caregivers on what they need to do, and not do, after she's diagnosed. There's no comprehensive program in place at hospitals, or doctors' offices, that seamlessly incorporates the caregiver into the breast cancer treatment process. This needs to change, now.
I can't stress enough the value that caregivers bring to breast cancer patients -- getting her to and from her appointments and treatments; helping her with meals, the kids, the house; helping her deal with intense emotional and psychological stress and anxiety; picking up her medicine; administering her shots; just giving her a big 'ol hug. The list goes on and on. And yet, for most of us helping out, in a caregiver role, we do it by the seat of our pants.
That's why I decided to write a book, for all the caregivers and loved ones, to know exactly what to do, and not do, when someone special in their lives is told she has breast cancer. Stand By Her: A Breast Cancer Guide For Loved Ones offers strategies and support to breast cancer caregivers, as they make their journey, right alongside her, through "Cancer Land," before, during, and after her treatment.
Throughout the book, I combine personal stories of caregivers and loved ones who "Stand By Her," along with detailed advice from experts who address all the medical, emotional, physical, psychological, family relationship, sexual, and financial issues that come with breast cancer. Each chapter focuses on a stage of the breast cancer process, beginning with diagnosis and continuing through final treatment, and beyond.
When a loved one is diagnosed with breast cancer, it can seem, on first blush, like a death sentence. Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases, it's not, and there is great hope that she is going to be just fine after treatment. For Stage 0 and Stage 1 breast cancers, according to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate is close to 100 percent; for Stage 2 breast cancer, the five-year survival rate is 93 percent.
With that said, the fear and anxiety that a breast cancer patient goes through is extreme. That's why having a caregiver by her side, every step of the way, is critical. We must "Stand By Her" whenever and however we can.
There are so many great and wonderful stories of caregivers who have done just that. Victoria Vargas, 21, of El Paso, TX took it one step further when her mom, Veronica Quintanilla, found out she had a breast cancer recurrence. After Victoria shaved her head in solidarity with her mom who would be losing her hair to chemo, Victoria decided that she and her mom should get matching permanent head tattoos of a pink ribbon to honor the Cancer Land journey they were about to embark upon, together.
Victoria (the daughter): "Our tattoos will always be a reminder of all I went through with my mom. Everyone has stories to tell behind a tattoo. This is a big story. When I am 80 years old, and I lose my hair, I can tell my great grandchildren why it's there."
Veronica (the mom): "Usually when you see a head tattoo, they are someone who is hard core. I think it's pretty cool. I don't ever want to see my tattoo again. That is my goal to never be bald again. I want me, and only me to know that this treasure (of the pink ribbon tattoo on her head) exists. It's my hidden secret. It makes me feel empowered. I feel some superpowers from it. I've beaten cancer."
So here's to all the caregivers out there, fighting the good fight alongside their loved ones, against their evil arch nemesis, breast cancer. May your combined superpowers kick breast cancer's butt, but good, winning the day, now and forever more.