A Letter to Parents of a Young Adult Diagnosed with Cancer

Seven years ago today, Kirsten called with news that changed our lives forever. I still have the text exchange on my phone from July 26, 2015. She was away at college, very sick with what she thought was the flu, and a caring friend was driving her around trying to find an urgent care facility that would see her (i.e. accept her insurance). The situation was getting desperate when she texted me for help. As I frantically searched for a location in her area online, another text came through…

“Did you figure it out yet? I am f*king dying here.”

Ugh. Little did we realize. After giving up and telling her to go to the emergency room, I would wait anxiously for two hours before we would hear from her again. That call is the one that will bring parents to their knees. “The doctor says I have leukemia, and he is trying to find a hospital that has beds available. He said I need to go right away.” 

From Kirsten’s diagnosis to the tragic loss, life was disorienting, chaotic, emotional, and exhausting. We felt like we were constantly climbing the cancer learning curve, with so many lessons learned along the way. What I would have given for my future self to offer a few helpful tips before stepping into Kirsten’s hospital room for the first time later that night. 

Over time, we all become experts of our own unique experience with cancer, so my hindsight may have its limits. But in memory and in honor of Kirsten’s experience and the challenges we experienced navigating the ups and downs as parents of a young adult with cancer, I offer the following advice to other parents who have recently been informed their (young adult) child has cancer. 

Parents, find a balance between giving care and giving space

As a parent, when your child is very ill, no matter what age, it is natural to want to do everything you can to protect them. But for a young adult, that can sometimes feel smothering. Have the awareness and take the time to ask them how they want to be supported. Recognize when your care is helpful and when it might feel like too much.

I often felt like I needed to be in the room with Kirsten in case something bad happened. But bad things may happen whether you are there or not, so for your mental health and theirs, find time to take for yourselves (and give them alone time). When you are in the room with them, they may not be able to truly act and feel like themselves.

If they were an independent young adult before the diagnosis, it can be very frustrating to lose that sense of freedom and control. Yes, they will need your help. But give them control where you can, even if it is just giving them a choice about what they want to eat, when they want some alone time, or who they want to visit (or not), etc. When Kirsten’s friends came to visit, we stepped away but let her know we were a text away if needed. 

Parents, do what you can to mitigate physical and emotional isolation.

One thing that has become very clear over the last seven years, the health risks from isolation can have lasting effects. Look for the signs, and work with the psychosocial team to mitigate the impact where possible. Isolation is more than just being alone in a room. It can be felt when they can’t express how they are feeling, when they are unable to do normal activities, and when they don’t have access to peers with shared experiences. And when we apply labels like “you are strong” or “you are an inspiration,” they feel they have to live up to the label, preventing them from sharing how they are really feeling.

By providing a safe space for young adults to share their emotions – name them, understand them, and process them – they can cope and move forward. So when they are sharing how they feel, try not to change the subject, attempt to fix it, or be dismissive. All of those responses invalidate their feelings. Also, there are some topics they need to talk about, but you or other members of the support team might not be the right audience. Depending on the topic, other peers, a trained health professional, or therapist is needed. The best help you can offer in those situations is to ask how they need to be supported and then help them find those other resources.

A word of caution, hospital privacy rules can be a major impediment to meeting others going through a shared experience. Often they are just down the hall, but you will never know. Remember, YOU have control over your own privacy wishes – the best way to meet others may be to give the hospital staff permission to let others know you are there and want to meet. Provide it in writing if needed. Kirsten would do the same thing to seek out other patients. As a consenting adult, she would provide her cell phone number and give the doctors and nurses permission to share it with anyone her age who wanted to meet in the hospital. The rest was up to the recipients to follow through. Your mental health depends on connection and having outlets and people to talk things through, so find ways to make it happen. 

Parents, respect their boundaries and right to private conversations with their medical team.

Let them be the ones in control of the speed and direction of information flow with the health professionals. Their body, life, and future are at stake – give them the opportunity to have full access to the information that affects their future – they should feel comfortable speaking freely, asking questions, answering honestly, and being involved in the decision-making process. Also, respect their privacy boundaries – and try to have the awareness to know when conversations head in that direction and offer to step out without being asked.

And this can’t be emphasized strongly enough…if it gets to the point where they ask you to step out of the room, do it without making them feel bad. It takes courage to speak up, and they need to feel safe making that request. Remember, it is not personal, and it’s not about you. Private topics can include family planning and fertility preservation, sexual activity, and lifestyle choices. For some topics, like fertility, they may not have thought about it until this moment, but they deserve to know how their treatment will impact their future ability to have a family.

There is nothing worse than feeling like, “why didn’t anyone tell me?!” after treatment is over (or it’s too late to take action). Kirsten was very engaged and curious about her condition, treatment, and how it impacted her future. Due to the severity of her cancer, she did not have the time to consider fertility preservation. Still, the information provided by the medical and psychosocial team helped her gain control over one of her biggest fears – fear of the unknown.

Parents, don’t assume you know what they need, be sure to ask.

As an independent young adult, the last thing they want to feel is dependent on their parents again, but they will need and want your support. Just make sure the support you offer is the support they want. Physical and emotional needs will change as treatment and other factors change. Be mindful and present in the moment when you are with them. It will help you tune in to pick up on the spoken and unspoken cues. That means leaving work, other family stress, financial concerns, etc., outside the room when you can.

But even when you are “dialed in” after spending months together, you will still get it wrong. It’s inevitable. But by taking the time to ask the simple but important question, “How can I support you today?” you are allowing them to regain control over what they can control, and in the process, you are getting them what they need. They may not always have an answer (which is okay too), but at least you extended the courtesy of asking. 

Parents, where possible, preserve normalcy, including activities, family time, and routines.

When a diagnosis happens, it’s all hands on deck to save a life, and all focus shifts to the person with cancer. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and that long-term focused attention can create collateral damage to other family members and relationships. As soon as possible, check in as a family and establish some important ground rules to keep the lines of communication open, find routines that you can sustain, and identify activities that are important to maintain.

Siblings are often asked to take on extra chores, help with school, and sometimes even pick up a job to help with finances. They may sacrifice activities with friends or school milestones because they feel the need to always be strong and mindful of their sibling with cancer. Unfortunately, jealousy, resentment, frustration, and isolation can build up over time, and they will feel isolated, and their mental health will suffer. Give them breaks, have one-on-one time with them to talk and allow them to do special activities. Make sure they still get to live life and have time to enjoy friends.

And for spouses or life partners, make time for each other as well. Plan your own private time away from the hospital together to talk and reconnect. Remember, your child will also want their quiet time, so this is a great opportunity for everyone’s self-care and mental health. 

Parents, watch for signs of financial stress and guilt.

The physical and emotional toll of cancer is bad enough, but the financial damage caused by cancer is also devastating and often hard to recover from. Cancer treatment and all of the secondary costs, including lodging, food, and alternate care for family, can add up FAST. When Kirsten was first diagnosed, we had no idea what to expect, and that one-week hotel reservation turned into a three-month extended stay – and it was out of network for health insurance. And since Kirsten was an adult being treated in the children’s hospital, none of us had access to any available services that would have helped offset those costs.

In the three months we were displaced, we would burn through nearly $40K of non-reimbursable expenses – just for lodging! That doesn’t even scratch the surface of the bills I saw go back and forth between the hospital and the insurance company. Without insurance, everything we had saved for the last 30 years would have been gone by the time treatment was over. My husband was between jobs, and we had no idea what would be approved or denied during treatment. Only after Kirsten was transferred back to San Diego would we become aware of just how stressed she was about the cost of her treatment and her concern for how it impacted all of our futures. That is a heavyweight for a young adult with cancer to bear on top of everything else. 

Parents, asking for and accepting/declining support is stressful, but it doesn’t have to be.

Support stresses everyone out at some level. Those in your circle who want to support worry about calling at a bad time, offering the wrong thing, or making things worse, not better. Remember, people want to help, and sometimes all they need are clear directions. And when you are the one in need of support, there is the stress of being a burden, seeming needy, weak, or incapable of caring for your own family, or on the flip side, not being in the mood for the support that is being offered and feeling guilty declining.

So much energy is wasted on the stress of communicating needs and offers of support. I regret not accepting the offers from friends and family. It would have given us welcome relief and the support system the joy of feeling helpful, making a difference, and providing comfort when someone needed them.

Reducing this stress is easier said than done, but one possible tactic is to make a list of all the things preventing you from being present for a loved one that you find yourself thinking about but don’t have the time to do. Post that list (or have it ready to share when people call or text) and let your network pick and choose what they feel comfortable helping with.

When you decline offers for support, provide constructive feedback that allows the support network to make helpful improvements for next time. Things like exhaustion, diet restrictions, changes to smell or taste, and other sensitivities are all perfectly acceptable reasons for declining or requesting an alternative. “Thank you for the offer. I’m not feeling well today. Can we reschedule for another time?” or “I appreciate the offer to bring ___, but a better alternative would be ___.” Honest and thoughtful guidance will make it better for you and them next time. 

Parents, find a method of communication that works for you and them.

The tools you need to communicate with family may be very different from those you need to communicate with their young adult friends. Find the tools and resources that make life easier, not harder, to keep everyone updated and engaged. There are lots of resources out there. Ask the care team and other caregivers and patients to find out what they use.

Respect privacy, and make it clear to others what they can or can not share. You don’t have to personalize every email – people understand and appreciate any updates. It also opens the door for them to reply when they might otherwise avoid connecting for fear of disturbing you. Also, consider how your updates will affect young adults reading it for the first time. For many, the news, and even the updates, can feel very scary, and have them worrying about death and even questioning their own mortality.

It is okay not to provide updates until you have more information. Avoid throwing the word cancer out there and then going radio silent for days. Only share information with people that you know and trust. And don’t be afraid to remove or block people that feel toxic or are less than helpful. Information sharing is first and foremost to help people provide support and comfort. If they create more work and stress for you than comfort, it is okay to take a break from connecting with them. 

Parents, be patient, be kind, and find forgiveness.

Being in close proximity for extended periods, mixed with fear, uncertainty, loss of independence, and friendships combine to turn life into a giant pressure cooker. The stress is enough to end relationships, break up marriages, create long-term resentment amongst siblings and parents, and unfortunately, contributes to all kinds of physical and emotional baggage down the road. It will be hard work to keep it together sometimes, but for everyone’s sake, do your best to act with kindness and when that fails, gather the courage to ask for and find forgiveness.

When feelings start to escalate, breathe. Have the self-control to take a break and walk away (but don’t storm away). It doesn’t do any good to argue and negatively impacts their health and yours. The closer we are, the more comfortable we are to vent and even say hurtful things. Hold the space for each other to express those feelings and try not to take them personally. Mistakes will be made but do your best. That is all anyone can ask

Keep your head up. Take care of yourself and each other. There will be good days and bad days, but every day you get to spend with each other is a gift. Many things about cancer are out of your control. So don’t waste time worrying about those. What you do have control over is how you choose to live each day and how you choose to treat each other. Do your best to make every day a little better.

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The Bond of a Cancer Best Friend

The Story of Shauna and Rosalina

Cancer best friend: a person that you met on your cancer journey that you share your experience with, and someone you can truly lean on for whatever you need during your cancer experience.

We often place more focus on sibling—or parent—relationships when talking about cancer diagnosis and treatment and how they provide support, but we don’t talk as much about the immense importance of friendships.

Friendships during a cancer diagnosis are game-changing. Friendships allow individuals to adjust to the changes cancer brings, have a more positive outlook, and often report a better quality of life. Friendships that are forged as a result of a cancer diagnosis can be some of the strongest bonds, as such a small number of people truly know what a cancer patient is going through. This is the case for Rosalina and Shauna, two best friends on opposite sides of the country who are now best friends after meeting through their cancer diagnoses.

The Bond of a Cancer Best Friend

Cancer Best Friends: Shauna and Rosalina

Shauna and Rosalina, both diagnosed with hormone-positive breast cancer before age 35, met through a Facebook support group where both had an intense desire to start a podcast to share their cancer experience.

“What I’ve learned [breast cancer] happens more in older women and not necessarily younger women. I felt really alone, and then I just woke up the day after my mastectomy surgery and thought, I’m sick of being angry and feeling alone.

I joined all these Facebook support groups and posted to each, sharing my story and asking if there’s anyone out there around my age that has a similar experience and wants to be a co-host of a podcast with me.

I met Shauna, and I felt like when we did our first zoom meeting together, I just thought that we clicked automatically. I kept thinking about Shauna for like the next couple of days and finally realized she would be a perfect fit for this podcast, and she is so. I’m super glad to have met her.”

Too Young For This Sh*t

Together Shauna and Rosalina started the podcast ‘Too Young For This Shit’ with the mission to bring awareness of breast cancer to young women and create a supportive space where no one is alone on this journey. In episodes, they dive deep into their treatment plans, journeys, struggles, and mental health as they navigate life in their “new” normal.

Even though they are on opposite sides of the country, they have been there for each other and have learned from each other along the way.

“I don’t think I could do it without her. I wouldn’t be where I am right now without her. We are such a good team, we have gone through our cancer journeys together, even on different chemo regimens, and we still had each other’s backs throughout the entire time. We are always texting and on the phone. I’m crying. She’s crying. I try to be super funny at certain times where she is super serious.”

What Shauna and Rosalina Taught Us

A few pieces of advice that we learned from Shauna and Rosalina on what friendship means during a cancer experience include:

  • Laugh together: Be humorous and funny in the right situations and when needed. A funny story, meme, or joke can help lighten the mood and make your friend’s day.
  • Allow space for all emotions (including sadness and frustration): Be a safe and open space for your friend to feel whatever emotion they need to express. Do not steer away from uncomfortable topics or emotions.
  • Talk about topics other than cancer: Your friend is still the same person they were before their diagnosis. Ask about interests, hobbies, or other topics they enjoy. Do you both enjoy a podcast, book series, TV show? Talk about your shared interests to allow them to take a break from talking about their cancer.
  • Ask permission: Asking is always a good place to start. Ask how they want to be supported that day. If they are up for a visit, ask if you can ask questions or talk about certain topics. More important than asking is to ask in a way that your friend knows that saying ‘no’ is a totally valid and acceptable answer.


Learn more about cancer best friends Shauna and Rosalina on our podcast, The Support Report with b-present.

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Friendship and Loss: How Being Present, Not Perfect Can Help You Live with No Regrets

Cancer is full of difficult emotions, from diagnosis through treatment and beyond. Here, we discuss the experience of loss and how to maximize the time you have together.

The catalyst for change

The b-present mission started with a lived experience: we lost our inspirational force, Kirsten, to leukemia in 2016. This loss felt abrupt and inexplicable: shortly after ringing the bell to signify the end of her treatment, an infection set in that, without an immune system, her body was unable to fight. The unexpected end to her story shattered the lives of all who knew and loved Kirsten. 

Survivors’ Guilt and Isolation After Loss

When we hear about survivors’ guilt, we often hear stories from cancer survivors who feel immense guilt that they are still alive and their friend with cancer is not. Supporters of a loved one often feel lost and alone as they struggle to process losing someone so young. 

Friends may be uncomfortable talking about death and are quick to change the subject when it comes up, or they may listen but are at a loss for how to offer comfort and support. The result? The friend or survivor is left feeling even more isolated and alone at a time when they could use a friend the most.

“I almost felt this sense of guilt carrying out my life still after the fact,” said Kelly, Kirsten’s friend since first grade. “I almost felt like, how is this fair? … I am here and I am able to do this … and Kirsten is not.” 

Kirsten (left) and Kelly (right) celebrating Kirsten’s 10th birthday.


We know we are not alone in experiencing this loss. As part of our mission, sharing our genuine emotions and experiences is vital to help  others out there who may be going through similar difficult times. 

In the seventh episode of our Support Squad webinar series, Kirsten’s friends Kelly, Bri, and Jordann offered candid insights into their journey as friends and supporters of a young adult going through cancer. 

‘It’s very isolating’

Life was looking up after Kirsten rang the bell, celebrating the end of her cancer treatment, which is why all of her friends were surprised by her subsequent rapid downward spiral. Kelly, Bri, and Jordann agreed—none of them thought the last time they saw Kirsten would be the last time.

“I remember walking through the grocery store and everyone is moving around me and living these lives and I am numb,” said Brianna. “Looking back, you always wish that you visited more. A lot of times it’s realizing that you don’t need to be perfect to show up … Even if you showed up for an hour.”

Be Present, Not Perfect. 

We say ‘live life with no regrets,’ but many young adults have never experienced a peer that has been diagnosed with cancer, and fewer have experienced losing a friend at such a young age. 

“Shocking doesn’t even begin to describe the experience,” Jordann said. “Cancer is one of the most complicated things you can go through regardless of the role you play in it.” 

From left to right: Jordann, Bri, and Kirsten at a concert.


Learning the news of a friend’s diagnosis can be both devastating and surreal. It can feel like a complete shock, and the array of reactions to this life-changing news is normal and expected. 

“It felt like I was watching a movie. It didn’t feel real.”

Feeling closed off and isolated, wanting to ‘fix’ the problem, and jumping in to do everything and anything you can—having so many unanswered questions is the hardest part.

  • What type of cancer is it? 
  • What is the prognosis? 
  • What’s appropriate to say? 
  • How can I be there for her?
  • How can I support my friend? 


It is normal to want everything to be perfect, but striving for perfection can get in the way of simply being present. 

At b-present, we are passionate about empowering the network of people that will be present for their loved ones. Social support is critical to a newly diagnosed young adult’s cancer journey and health outcomes. b-present is on a mission to improve the experience for both young adults with cancer and their supporters. 

“Supportive friends are a huge untapped resource.” 

Young adults diagnosed with cancer are required to press pause during such a pivotal time in their lives and often do not receive consistent support, leading to isolation and poor quality of life. The health care system is often at capacity, and caregivers are stretched to their limits. Friends have this incredible opportunity to provide some relief to their friend with cancer and the people who care for them—finding the time and making time to be present with your loved one has a tangible impact on your friend and the support network. And remember, you don’t need to do something big to make a big difference. 

Every person has the potential to provide the support and love that is needed during this difficult time, and yet isolation is still a problem. So what’s the problem? Inexperience? Fear? No time? We find all kinds of excuses not to stay connected. The challenge is to turn that response on its head, get out of your own way, and lean into the fear, self-doubt, and the awkward unknown. 


The experience is often new for everyone, so take comfort in knowing you are in it together and finding your way. Try not to get hung up on the perfect support experience. Instead, stay authentic to your relationship, and accept that there will be imperfections and mistakes along the way. Have patience and be kind to each other, find forgiveness when mistakes happen, and keep moving forward together. The rewards will be many, but the best will be the lifelong bond and stronger relationship that grows out of overcoming adversity together. 

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When Words of Gratitude Are All We Have

It was October 18th, 2015, the day before Kirsten was to be life-flighted from Stanford hospital in Palo Alto to Rady Children’s hospital in San Diego, where she would spend the remainder of her days as a cancer patient. We had just spent the last three months in the care of not just health professionals but our extended family, and Kirsten felt palpable anxiety and urgency about creating personal thank you cards and arranging gifts to leave behind. She knew it would be a while before she could return to thank them in person.

Kirsten was in the middle of her treatment, still neutropenic and broken-hearted, that she was less than 24 hours away from leaving her friends and extended family in Palo Alto, potentially forever. Everything was happening very quickly once we got the surprising word that her transfer was not just approved but imminent. There were a lot of things that had to be taken care of, but there was one thing that seemed to be the most important to her, and we had less than 24 hours to get it done, and she knew exactly what she wanted to do. She shared her vision and instructions with me, and I was on a mission to get everything needed.

Making time for gratitude

List in hand, I was off to the stationary store to get the materials to create handmade cards and then to the grocery store for ingredients for the homemade treats she often made for her friends during better days pre-cancer. This wasn’t going to be a quickly put-together “thank you.” It was intended to be thoughtful, personal, and heartfelt. As I was running the errands, I would periodically text her images of papers, decorations, colors, and food items to make sure I was getting everything just right. She wanted it to be perfect.

After Kirsten’s cancer diagnosis, the lotus flower had become her personal symbol for what she had endured, and it was to be the centerpiece for the cards we were about to make. She had researched different designs online and set out to create a design template that I would replicate for each of the special friends in the hospital. It was already dinner time, and we had to have everything complete before 6 am since she would be on a plane later that morning and wanted to personally deliver them to as many people as possible.

We worked tirelessly together – but apart. I was at the hotel making giant pretzels dipped in white and milk chocolate and covered with crushed candy bars. Next was the process of cutting out and assembling the lotus flower cards. Meanwhile, she was busy in her hospital bed typing her personalized notes on her laptop. She was fighting nausea, chemo brain, and endless interruptions, but she was determined to finish the task. We stayed connected throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning, periodically texting, checking in, encouraging each other, and most importantly cracking a few jokes to keep us laughing, awake, and on task under stressful circumstances.

She emailed me the draft letters a little after 2 am, and I was blown away by what she sent. Fighting back tears as I read each note, the love and heartfelt gratitude leaped from the pages. What I was not expecting was how her words shined a light for the first time on just how much she worried about the impact of her diagnosis on our family. In that moment, the gravity of her diagnosis became clear. Despite chemo brain and nausea, she created beautiful, thoughtful, articulate notes of gratitude, and I was never so proud and honored to insert these notes into the handmade cards.

It was past 3 am when we exchanged our final texts for the night. We were exhausted but also exhilarated by the products of our late-night teamwork. Our minds were clear, and the important work of documenting her gratitude was done. I think we both passed out and had the best 3 hours of sleep possible under the circumstances.

Morning came all too quickly as I popped out of bed and carefully packed the car with the treats, cards, and gifts and headed to the hospital. That precious cargo was the punctuation mark on the worst three months of her life, made better by people that cared deeply for her. As I brought the items to her room, I instantly saw how proud and excited she was to see how her vision had come to life. It was just how she imagined it. As she handed out the cards and sweet treats, her love and heartfelt appreciation for those that had cared for her was clear.

With the most important task of the day behind her, the time had finally come. The paramedics were ready to prepare her for the long trip to her hometown hospital in San Diego. As she was wheeled down the hospital corridor for the last time, she heard the loving calls from the nurses and staff on duty one last time. “We will miss you, Kirsten!” With her favorite AYA support staff by her side for that final ride to the parking lot, I walked a few steps behind, feeling a wave of emotions. For her, I know she felt anxious, sad, hopeful, and so very grateful for the people that helped her make it this far.

Don’t let words of gratitude go unsaid

I learned an important lesson from Kirsten that day…whatever it takes, don’t let your words of appreciation go unsaid. Whether it is in life’s most dire situations or the mundane day-to-day, try to find, celebrate and acknowledge the good that happens around you. Seize the moment with the urgency and drive of knowing you may never have a second chance to express what is in your heart. Let those special people know that their actions meant something. Be specific about how they changed you, made you feel better, safer, less anxious, seen, heard, supported, more connected, and less alone. Words can sometimes feel like they are not enough, but when they come from the heart, they can be inspiring, uplifting and are often exactly what is needed.

Excerpts from Kirsten’s Gratitude Letters

  • Thank you for being an amazing doctor and going beyond what is asked of you. I could tell you really care about all of your patients and tried to make a connection with each and every one of us.


  • I always enjoyed when you came by because there was never a dull moment and you were always nice enough to laugh at all my jokes. You took a lot of pressure off of my family, which was so important to me.


  • You were really there for me when you saw that I was upset and I appreciate that.


  • You have been one of my biggest supporters and I love that you are working on making a program for young adults. Being here, I’ve realized how important those types of connections are and really admire that you have been working so hard to make us feel more comfortable.


  • I really can’t thank you enough for how much you have impacted my family by making sure everything was always taken care of and reducing the stress my family has been through.


  • The amount of passion and love that you have for your patients here is incredible and something I admire. Thank you for introducing Crystal and I because it really sparked something here. Even though we broke the rules, it helped the nurses and doctors realize how important it is for the patients to interact and have a friend here.


  • You are one of my favorite nurses and you honestly made this whole process for me so much easier. I always looked forward to having you as my night nurse because there was never a dull moment with you and our conversations helped take my mind off of this whole situation.


  • You really made patients feel like people rather than just another kid with cancer. You have a big heart and were always willing to put up with my lame jokes and listen to me when I really needed someone to talk to.


  • I’m so glad that I was able to have a friend like you in here. Even though life hasn’t always been easy, you have been so incredibly strong and honestly been someone that I look up to.

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What a Stage IV Breast Cancer Patient Wants You To Know About Breast Cancer Awareness Month

You have probably seen a barrage of pink products everywhere you go in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. But what does breast cancer awareness actually mean? Is it pink ribbons? Is it knowing your risk of developing breast cancer? Is it awareness of what breast cancer patients actually go through? How do we effectively support the cause? 

As a stage IV cancer patient, a lot of the marketing around Breast Cancer Awareness Month can be difficult to look at. It’s portrayed as pretty and pink, something that you fight through but then overcome. This isn’t the case for many breast cancer patients, especially those of us who are stage IV and rarely see ourselves represented during breast cancer awareness month. For us, Stage IV breast cancer is not curable, and it will eventually be terminal.

What Does it Mean to Have Stage IV Breast Cancer?

When we talk about stage IV breast cancer, we are talking about a cancer that has metastasized from its original location in the breast and spread to other parts of the body (most commonly, the liver, lungs, brain, and bones). Cancer that remains in the breast cannot kill you – breast cancer will only kill you once it becomes stage IV and has spread to other parts of the body. Many of my friends have asked me if stage IV breast cancer is not portrayed much because it is rare. The answer? It’s not rare.

Here are some statistics to put it into perspective:

  • 20-30% of early-stage breast cancer patients will become stage IV at some point in their lives 


  • It is estimated that there are over 168,000 people living with stage IV breast cancer in the US


  • The number of people living with stage IV breast cancer is expected to increase by almost 50% by 2030


  • Only 28% of people with stage IV breast cancer live more than 5 years past their diagnosis


  • Only 2-5% of breast cancer funding goes toward stage IV breast cancer


These statistics are sobering, and they can often make us feel helpless.

Here are some actionable things that you can do to support the breast cancer cause this Breast Cancer Awareness Month…

Know your own risk

Awareness starts with you, so the most important thing you can do this Breast Cancer Awareness Month is understand your own risk of breast cancer. Do you have a history of breast cancer in your family? Do you have dense breasts? Do you live an active lifestyle and eat healthy? Do you drink alcohol? All of these things and more play into your breast cancer risk. Bright Pink has created this excellent risk assessment tool in order to assess your own breast cancer risk and be more informed about your health. 

Commit to performing your monthly breast self-exams

Breast self- exams are an incredibly easy, free, and effective tool to learn your own body and catch breast cancer early. But many women don’t regularly perform their breast self-exams. We often have a feeling of “I’m too young” or “it won’t happen to me,” but I’m here to tell you that I had this same mentality, and I was diagnosed at age 27 with stage IV breast cancer. It can happen to anyone at any age, and it’s important to stay on top of your health screenings, especially since you can do it for free at home.

If you’ve never done a breast self-exam before and need a little guidance, check out the free Know Your Lemons Breast Check app. This app doubles as a period tracker and lets you know the best time in your cycle to check your breasts, as well as guiding you through the self-check process and helping you recognize all the symptoms you should keep an eye on.

Support organizations that fund research

Ask someone diagnosed with breast cancer what their most and least favorite breast cancer charities are, and you might be surprised by the answer. Some of the most popular nonprofits in the breast cancer space are actually really disliked by many breast cancer patients for putting profits before patients. When you choose to support a breast cancer charity (or any charity, really), do some research to find out whether they are liked within the community and actually support the cause they say they do.

As a stage IV patient, I want to stress how important research is. Our cancer will eventually outsmart our treatments, forcing us to move on to the next treatment, and so on, and many people do run out of treatments. I currently have a friend in hospice currently because she has no more treatment options left, even though she has much more fight left in her. Research is the only way to find more treatments and extend our lives, so I highly recommend supporting organizations that fund stage IV breast cancer research. My personal favorite charity for stage IV breast cancer is Metavivor

What is Breast Cancer Awareness “pinkwashing” and what can you do to prevent it?

Every Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a tidal wave of pink merchandise hits stores with everything from curling irons to bagels to jewelry purporting to support the breast cancer cause. However, many of these products do nothing for the cause beyond slapping a pink ribbon on the packaging. This is what we in the breast cancer community call “pinkwashing”, or — basically exploiting the breast cancer cause for profit or PR purposes.

This is hurtful to many breast cancer patients as we are consistently seeing our trauma being used to as a way increase sales and not to support those that are suffering and dying within the breast cancer community. If you see an item that claims to benefit breast cancer, ask what organization benefits, how much is being donated, and where the funds are going. If you are not satisfied with the answer, don’t buy the product, and call the company out.

Check in on your breast cancer friends this month

As I mentioned in my previous point, seeing the tidal wave of pink can be really triggering for many of us in the breast cancer community. We’re constantly seeing our trauma plastered over every store, billboard, and city bus we see, and it can be emotionally draining. If you have a friend with breast cancer in your life, or even a breast cancer survivor, check in on them and see how they’re doing. They might need a listening ear, a safe space to vent, or a distraction from all the pink that comes in October and you can do a world of good by supporting them through that. 

The bottom line is that it is important to understand what this month is really all about – it’s not pretty and pink, it’s a deadly reality for many. Seek to understand the true goal of the awareness month, and find ways you can make real change for those in the community that need your support.

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Staying Connected Even When COVID and Cancer Keep You Apart

COVID and Cancer—The Challenges

When you’re first diagnosed with cancer, it’s usually a time when everyone you’ve ever spoken to comes out of the woodwork to support you. MealTrains are started, flowers are sent, donations are given in your honor. But for those of us diagnosed or going through treatment during COVID, that support looks a little different.

I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in September of 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic. I remember when I was first diagnosed, all I wanted was a hug from my best friends. Because of COVID though, I was forced to only see them outdoors, from a distance, with masks on. I was so grateful for their support, but I always wished that we could safely be close to each other. 

When I started treatment, it became even more difficult to spend time with friends. There were many times where my blood work would come back showing that my immune system was dangerously low, and that I shouldn’t be around others at all. Cancer is already isolating, but when you add COVID on to that, it can become even more isolating to not be able to see others in person.

With the surge of the delta variant in the US, these COVID precautions have become important for cancer patients again despite vaccinations. If you are trying to support your friend through cancer during COVID, here are some suggestions for safe things you can do:

covid and cancer

Plan Something Virtual

Some of my favorite times I spent with my friends while COVID kept us physically apart were the virtual activities we planned. I love games and have a very competitive streak, so we did a lot of virtual trivia and virtual escape rooms. It was always a fantastic time “seeing” my friends on the screen and playing something together like we would if we were able to be in person. These are just some ideas that I have tried, but the sky is the limit on virtual activities!

If your friend is into crafting, why not do a craft night together on Zoom? If they love to cook and still have an appetite, try a virtual cooking class through Airbnb’s virtual experiences! It doesn’t matter what you do, just knowing you’re thinking of them and are setting time aside to be with them will surely brighten their spirits. If you’re interested in some of the virtual activities I tried, here are my recommendations: for virtual trivia, check out Sporcle as they run live virtual trivia most days, often with fun themes, and it’s always a great time. For virtual escape rooms, The Escape Game has a variety of great options. 

covid and cancer

Outdoor Socially-Distant Activities

When cases were low in my area, and my blood counts cooperated, I loved spending time outdoors and socially distanced with my friends. We got really creative with how we spent time outside, from carrying a TV outdoors and having cozy movie nights under the stars (with masks on and our chairs spread out) to outdoor tea parties where we each sat at different tables and wore masks when we weren’t eating or drinking. This was about as close to a normal friend hang out as I could get, so I cherished this time so much and appreciated my friends for being willing to sit outside bundled up in blankets just to spend time with me.

FaceTime Them While They Get Treatment

Many cancer centers still aren’t allowing patients to bring support people in with them for chemo infusions. This can lead to AYAs feeling especially lonely – I know when I’m at the cancer center, I’m always the youngest one there by at least 20 years and can often feel isolated because of it. Talk to your friend about their treatment schedule, and ask whether they would like to chat while receiving chemo. You can FaceTime them, call them, or even just text (I love when people send funny memes while I’m getting treatment).

Knowing you’ve set aside time to be there for them, even though you can’t physically be there, can help with the isolation of being there alone. I have one cancer friend who always gets chemo in a chair by a window. Her friends drop by that window with signs cheering her on, or even just sit outside the window and chat on the phone with her so that it’s almost like they’re hanging out in person. Depending on the setup at your friend’s cancer center, this could also be an option! 

Help Them Out with Chores from Afar

Your friend might be too tired to grocery shop, cook dinner, pick up prescriptions, or even walk their dog. These are all things that you can help them with while still staying socially distanced! You can drop food, prescriptions, or their favorite takeout/a home-cooked meal on their porch, and if they’re up for a visit when you drop things off, you can stand outside and distanced while wearing a mask. If they need help with a pet, you could pick the pet up from their yard or other outdoor area and walk it while they rest. While being indoors with your friend might not be an option right now, you can still support them from afar if you talk to them about their needs. 

Use the b-there Tool to Plan Support

Most of the suggestions I have listed here for supporting your friend from afar require that friend to be feeling well enough to spend time with you. The b-there tool is a great way to understand your friend’s needs and limitations, and using the information they share within the tool, you’ll be able to plan your support accordingly. In addition to coordinating activities, it also lets you know how they want to connect and what they are in the mood to do. Flexibility is key. Remember that they might wake up one day and not feel up to something you had planned that day. While it might be disappointing or even hurtful, try to remember that it’s not personal. 

The Bottom Line

Don’t let the pandemic restrictions keep you from spending time with your friends. You may not be able to do something every day, but by allowing yourself to get creative and think outside the box, you will be amazed at how many ways you can continue to enjoy each other and have fun doing something together…even if it is more than six feet apart.

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Cancer Support Challenges for Active Duty Military: Q&A with Rebecca Satterwhite

Did you know that  over 80% of the nearly 1.33 million active duty military personnel are young adults between 18-35? Imagine getting a cancer diagnosis while you are serving your country. Social support for this unique community can often be hard to find. Rebecca Satterwhite, a member of the U.S. Navy, received a devastating breast cancer diagnosis at 26. Due to her own experience with inadequate support throughout treatment and beyond, she is on a mission to make a change and amplify support for military members whose lives have been touched by cancer. Here’s her story…

Tell us about yourself, pre and post-diagnosis?

Before I was diagnosed, I felt smart. I was the strongest I’d ever felt and the fastest because of the training I was in, I put up with a lot more BS, work was my number one priority, I felt like I had a lot of good friends and awesome people that I worked with. After I was diagnosed, I wouldn’t say my main goals changed that much, maybe just my timing. 

I always wanted to retire from the military, and I still do, but I’m more focused on switching career fields sooner than I had previously planned. My job right now is pretty cool because of where I work, but I don’t want to work on electronics forever, and after chemo, I feel like I lost a lot of my knowledge on the subject. 

The main life change I was not expecting was meeting my husband. We met right before I started chemo, and lucky for me, he didn’t let any of the medical stuff phase him one bit. The second time we really got to hang out was right after I lost my hair, and I was so nervous for him to see me. I had built up this whole situation in my head, and all that went away when he saw me, smiled, and kissed the top of my baby-smooth head. That was the start of a new mindset on my part; I was spending a little too much time worrying about work, and I needed to spend more time on what and who makes me happy. 

Post-diagnosis and post-treatment, I really started to realize I had to get used to what everyone calls their “new normal,” which is always rough. I’m not going to lie, I’m still fighting that internal battle that I’ll never be exactly who I was before, and it’s hard. I’m still as smart as I was before, but now it takes me a lot more time than I’d like to be able to think of the right word or remember where I put something earlier. 

I’m not as physically strong as before, and it sucks starting over; I have pain in weird spots, and parts of my body feel numb, which is strange. I might get as strong and as fast as I once was, but it will take more time and more effort.


Tell us about your cancer experience?

Right in the middle of a pretty tough military training school, I found a lump in my left breast. I immediately thought it was cancer. Most of my family members that were over the age of 40 have had some type of cancer, so I guess I always thought it would happen to me someday too. I just didn’t expect it to be at age 26. 

I found out later on that it wasn’t genetic at all and that it had probably been growing for a little over three years. After that, I always wondered if it was job-related, and honestly, I may never find out. I’m active duty in the Navy, and I work on communications equipment, which means when I worked on an aircraft carrier, I was constantly working and living around RF radiation among all sorts of other chemicals for roughly five years. 



Once I was diagnosed, I was told my best option was to have a lumpectomy with sentinel node biopsy and radiation therapy following the surgery. The first surgery went well, but more information came from the biopsy. I was told the cancer had started to spread, and I would need another surgery followed by chemotherapy before I ended the treatments with radiation. 

Up until this point, I had, of course, been upset that I had cancer, but I always felt that I would be alright once I got through all of the treatments. But after finding out that I would be getting 12 rounds of chemo, I started to feel crushed. I wasn’t ready to feel sick all of the time or tired or lose my hair or any of the number of things I felt once I actually started. 

I had no idea what to expect or how I’d feel, and that was scary. I googled a lot, which was not the right answer, but I like to try and feel as prepared as possible. I was not prepared, though. 

In my first chemo session, I packed some books, a blanket, snacks, and my laptop. My mom came with me, and I think she was more nervous than I was, but of course, she was trying to look fine. I was glad she was there, but I also didn’t want to look worried. For whatever reason, I felt like I needed to be the strong one. 

Sitting in the hospital getting pumped full of meds and chemicals, I was actually not as sick or tired as I expected, but once I got back home, I felt like all I wanted to do was lay in bed. I went from feeling like a pretty healthy and fit 26-year-old to feeling tired constantly and having bone pain that made me shuffle instead of walk normally. After a while, I got used to how it would feel, only to have them start me on a new kind of chemo that comes with different side effects. 

Still, I knew it would end eventually, and I would get back to normal life! That definitely was not the case. I did finish treatment and was told I was cancer-free, and I’d be taking one pill (tamoxifen) a day for the next ten years to try and keep me cancer-free, which is fine. I can deal with a pill a day, as long as I’m back to normal, right

I never got my “before normal” back, which for me was actually one of the hardest things about my cancer experience. I had gone into all this thinking that it would end; if I just get through this part, I’ll be back to how I was before. 

At home, I’m usually pretty comfortable with my “new normal.” I have a routine, my family is there, my dogs are there, I’m in my own space, and if I forget something, my husband knows where it’s at or knows the word in the sentence that I can’t think of and helps me out. I have my moments where I get upset or a little mopey at home, but for the most part, I’ve become happy, even a little more confident at home than I was before. 

Once I get to work, though, I usually struggle a little more. I’m lucky enough to work with some of the military’s smartest, fittest, and dedicated people. I used to be one of them; I could tackle tons of problems and fix things, keep up with most of them during workouts, and I felt accepted. Now I almost avoid those situations entirely, and I feel like my once good friends avoid me too. Most of the people that know what I went through don’t talk to me much anymore unless it’s specifically work-related, and those that don’t know what I went through give me a puzzled look when I pause in the middle of a sentence or tell me I shouldn’t have my hair that short because it’s not in “navy regs.” 



On one hand, I completely understand why they say or look at me funny. Before I went through this, I probably would’ve done the same things. Now I either politely try to explain myself or just get angry in silence and keep it all bottled up. There are understanding and helpful people, but most don’t know how to help, and I feel like a lot of people are surprised that I still have issues a year after my treatments ended. It seems like many people, military or not, think once treatment is done, you should be functioning as you were before.


What never failed to make your day during treatment?

Three days after my first surgery, I ended up adopting my sweet pup, Cypress. I lived alone at the time, so it was wonderful to have him around. He was from a rescue, a little over a year old, and I remember right after my mom dropped me off at home following my first chemo session, he knew something was wrong. Throughout all my treatments, he was so calm and patient with me when normally he would be jumping and running all over the place, being a normal, energetic German Shepherd/Husky mix. He followed me around and would lay his big ol’ head on my lap to keep me company. Aren’t animals just amazing?



If you could tell new supporters one thing not to do, what would it be?

Don’t talk to them any differently than you would have before, and definitely don’t completely avoid them. If you don’t know what to say, just let them lead the conversation or bring up something you can enjoy talking about that has nothing to do with the cancer subject.


If you could tell new supporters one thing to do, what would it be?

Offering help is great, in my opinion. It doesn’t have to be something huge, maybe just a ride to the hospital if you know they don’t feel well enough to drive themselves. If you miss them and want to hang out, let them know that, and offer to come over and watch a movie or go for a short walk.


Cancer Support for Military Members

When I was first diagnosed, I looked for a military-related cancer support group, and I couldn’t find one, and I felt a little out of place in regular young adult groups. They were always very accepting, but they just didn’t understand some of my military-related frustrations. I started SMAC (Service Members Affected by Cancer) recently to try and give service members a place to feel more comfortable to talk, share their issues, or get some support from other service members. I have some military therapists willing to help out if anyone needs assistance. You can visit our website at smacancer.org, email us at [email protected], or follow us on Instagram @servicemembersaffectedbycancer

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Cancer Humor: Coping Through Laughter

I’ll never forget the first time I told a cancer joke around people who haven’t experienced cancer firsthand. I was chatting with friends about the COVID vaccines in late 2020, just before they were approved. I had said that I was excited to be able to get the vaccine early since I’m immune-compromised from my cancer treatment, and a friend asked me if I was scared to be one of the first to get a vaccine that was so new. “What’s it going to do?” I replied, “Give me incurable cancer? Oh, wait…”

I thought this was funny, but when I looked at the other little squares on Zoom staring back at me, wide-eyed with jaws dropped, I realized this joke didn’t land with any of the people I was talking to. It was in that moment that I realized the dark sense of humor that came with my cancer diagnosis might not be appreciated outside of the cancer community.

Impact of Cancer Humor

Cancer jokes remain taboo in our society, and that’s a real shame. The world we’re thrust into when we are diagnosed with cancer is incredibly dark, and it can be hard to fight that darkness as it tries to consume us. One important coping mechanism for cancer patients is joking about what we’re going through to make it feel less dark. In fact, the impact of humor during cancer treatment has been studied in a variety of scientific studies, and it has been proven to lessen anxiety and discomfort, have a positive effect on the patient’s immune system, and improve pain thresholds.

When the people around us show us that humor surrounding cancer makes them uncomfortable, though, it can make us feel more lonely and isolated, an already overwhelming emotion we often feel during and after treatment. One of the first things you can do to support your friend with cancer is learn about the landscape of this new world that they’ve been thrust into, and try your best to understand what they’re now dealing with while keeping in mind that you will never truly get it unless you experience it firsthand. Learning about this cancer world can help them not feel so alone and take the pressure off of them to explain every new medical term that is important for their treatment. 

Familiarize Yourself with Cancer Humor

As you’re learning about the cancer landscape, I suggest also familiarizing yourself with cancer humor. Check out which cancer accounts your friend is following on Instagram and Twitter – are any of them meme accounts? If so, it might be helpful to follow these accounts yourself to get familiar with the things that your friend might find funny during cancer treatment. While nobody is expecting you to be comfortable telling cancer jokes (and, in fact, I would suggest following your friends’ lead when it comes to cancer humor), seeing more humor surrounding cancer in your feeds can help normalize it for you. 

Not sure where to start when it comes to finding cancer humor? My personal favorite cancer meme account is @thecancerpatient on Instagram. It’s an account run by an anonymous nurse and 2x cancer survivor, and it’s incredible how close to home many of those memes hit for me. As a Schitt’s Creek superfan with a visceral hatred for the phrase “you don’t look sick,” this is my favorite cancer meme I’ve ever seen:

Support Your Friend with Humor

For some supporters, and even some patients themselves, humor surrounding cancer can simply be too much. That doesn’t mean that you can’t still support your friend with humor and help your friend get all the great benefits of humor during cancer treatment! Try and plan some get-togethers with your friend surrounding things that will make them laugh when they feel up for it. One of my favorite activities to do with friends that always brings on lots of laughs for all of us is virtual trivia nights. It’s a COVID-safe activity that I could do when I didn’t feel like leaving the house, and there are plenty of places that put on themed virtual trivia. We would often do trivia about topics such as Schitt’s Creek, Disney, and even 90-Day Fiancé, which were always especially entertaining.

But it doesn’t have to be as involved as a trivia night – that might be something your friend isn’t feeling up for if they’re experiencing chemo brain or fatigue. If they’re feeling up to having a visitor, though, you could do something as simple as watching a funny movie or bingeing a funny show together. 

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that humor, whether about cancer or just in general, can feel like a huge sigh of relief for someone going through cancer treatment. While what your friend is going through is very serious, that doesn’t mean that all of your interactions with them need to be. They are still the friend they were before cancer, and they want to laugh with you the way they did before cancer. Help them feel that sigh of relief by bringing humor into your interactions with them!

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Chiara vs Cancer: Adapting to a New Life with Support That Makes Life Better

My Story

My name is Chiara Riga. I am 28 years old, a marketing operations manager, dog mom, lover of exercise and the outdoors, and in September of 2020, I was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer. A year before my diagnosis, I had gone to the doctor to have a lump in my breast checked out and was told that I was “too young” for breast cancer and that it was a cyst. A year later, I went in to have the “cyst” drained and walked out with a cancer diagnosis. This came as quite a shock to me and my entire support system as I was in the best shape of my life when I was diagnosed and had no family history, genetic mutations, or any other significant risk factors.

The first few months of my diagnosis were incredibly difficult. Having to come to terms with your own mortality in your 20s is not something that anyone is prepared for, and adjusting to medically-induced menopause along with the other host of side effects has been physically challenging. But over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about my diagnosis. With the help of an amazing support system, I’ve begun to learn what my new life will look like. I’m focusing on advancing my career, being outdoors and exercising as much as possible, spending time with the people I love, and helping others understand that you’re never too young for cancer, as well as sharing how best to support their AYA loved ones who are diagnosed with cancer.


Support Tip #1: Be Authentic and Get Creative

I couldn’t have gotten to this place of acceptance of my new life without an incredible group of people around me. When I was first diagnosed, there was an outpouring of support from what felt like everyone I’ve ever met. But as most AYA cancer patients can probably relate to, many of those people slowly started to fade away as the novelty of my diagnosis wore off. Luckily though, most of my favorite people held strong in their support of me. While many people asked what they could do to help, my favorite ways that my friends have supported me were creative ways that they came up with themselves.

The one that sticks out the most was when my best friends, many of whom don’t know each other well, all came together and bought me a beautiful charm bracelet. They each put a charm on the bracelet that they felt represented our friendship, then they each wrote me a little letter explaining the charms and wishing me luck through my treatment. Since I was diagnosed when we were still in lockdown, they weren’t able to come with me to any appointments or be with me much, so the charm bracelet always brought a smile to my face when I looked at it during appointments.

Another really creative way that people supported me was when a group of colleagues created a signup list, and each week, one of them wrote me a beautiful card. They decided that instead of overwhelming me with support at the beginning and then fading away, they wanted to ensure that I felt loved and supported continually. It’s been a year, and the letters are still coming! They somehow always end up arriving during the hardest part of my week and always bring a smile to my face.


Support Tip #2: Anticipate and Be Specific

There have also been other times when people wanted to support me, but they came to me to ask how they could help, and I just didn’t have the capacity to let them know what I needed at that time. It often felt easier to just get myself what I needed rather than having to explain to someone else what was necessary. The best kind of supporters are the ones who learn to anticipate your needs and provide help without asking what you need first.

Some friends have come to me and said something like, “I’m bringing you ice cream. Do you prefer mint chocolate chip or Phish Food today?” so that I didn’t have to feel bad asking for what might make me feel better. Once I told my friend that I was having trouble eating because of my mouth sores and she stopped by later that day to drop off homemade bone broth, ice cream, and other treats that I could enjoy without irritating my mouth sores. This made such an impact because I was just struggling through the side effects, and she actively tried to alleviate some of the struggles.

chiara vs cancer

Support Tip #3: Just Try! 

My best advice to someone who wants to support an AYA through cancer treatment is to just try – don’t ask what they need, don’t put the onus on them to help you be supportive, just try something. And don’t be offended if the first thing you try doesn’t land with them at first; this is a whole new world that they’ve been thrust into, and you don’t have any understanding or context into what it’s like to live with a diagnosis like this, so you might get it wrong sometimes. But the important thing is to show that you’re there, you care, and you’re willing to do the work to get it right.

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What Support Through Cancer Looks Like To Me

What does support look like? I’ve taken too long to answer this awesome question that I’ve been asked so many times. As the journey has continued to unfold, I’ve learned support really comes down to this one concept. 

On any given day, support means that my hardship, struggle, messiness, or pain isn’t too much for you to handle.

I wonder how many of us have believed the lie “we are too much.” I sure have. We feel we can’t be real because what we are going through will be too big a burden on others. It will hurt others, often those we love most. So we don’t ask for help, we say “we are fine” when sometimes we aren’t, we press on with our nose to the grind because we don’t want to inconvenience or trouble anyone else.

If supporting me means that my hard isn’t too hard for you, then what does that actually look like and mean day-to-day?

margarett and kris hansen

Margarett Hansen and her husband Kris


Support is two-fold.

Well, it’s two-fold. In part, it means that you are self-aware enough of your own heart, well being, and limitations; to know what you can and cannot handle or offer. And that’s not for me to determine. For me, it means asking specific questions like, “how are you, TODAY?” “Is it a good day or a hard day?” If it’s a good day, we rejoice! If it’s a hard day, and you have the capacity to offer assistance, a great follow up question is, “Do you have what you need in this moment?” Or “Is there a need I can fill today or tomorrow?”

If you can’t help because of distance or you’re also running at your max capacity, which is totally fine too, then simply acknowledging my struggle and saying, “what is hard about today?” and listening or saying, “I am so sorry you’re going through this.” is enough. We both know you can’t fix it. Ultimately, don’t we all want to be heard, seen, and known?

Things that were unhelpful

I have experienced people projecting their own issues on me too. This is NOT helpful. I had several conversations that went something like “thank you for the offer. I know I will need help, but I don’t know what that looks like yet. I will ask for help when I know what I need.” I personally felt dishonored because some people assumed I couldn’t/wouldn’t ask for help after confessing it was because they themselves had a hard time with it. I think this goes back to not wanting to burden others.

What would have honored my heart would have been to say, “I know you have a lot going on, when you know what kind of help you need, please let me know.” Or even better, “I’ll check back in on you and see if you have a better idea of how I can help you through this season.” Stop and think about asking a better, more specific, or intentional question.

Helpful support

Some offered support by sharing their own cancer journey or reaching out to friends who had been through it. They asked those with first-hand knowledge for wisdom and passed it along. I found this to be really helpful to prepare and anticipate what was ahead since everything is a new experience!

Now I am in active treatment, and I have a much clearer understanding of what I need from week to week. Chemo weeks, meals are really helpful! I’m in bed most of the week. I couldn’t tell you this in the beginning. I didn’t know. Around days 7-10 post-chemo, when I’m feeling better, I enjoy cooking for my family and doing normal things again! Help with the kids is also incredible! This is a harder need to fill, I realize.

I love the messages, the packages, Bible verses, and encouraging quotes! This is all supportive too! Come sit with me and chat while I’m laid up resting. Share what’s going on in YOUR life. I want to know your heart too. Healthy relationships are give-and-take. I may not be able to give as much right now, but I can listen, and I still care about YOU!

I hope in sharing my heart and journey it helps you support others that may be going through a hard time in their lives. I realize what may be helpful for me may not be helpful for others. Sometimes it’s best to honestly ask your struggling friend or family member, “What is NOT helpful for you right now? Answering this is sometimes easier than answering, “What can I do for you?

With much love and hope,

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