In today's fast-paced, hectic and demanding world, it's challenging enough to balance work, home and family, but add a major health problem to themix and your life can spin out of control.
This is the case among many women, since females tend to be caregivers--taking on the world, fixing everyone's problems, juggling dozens of errands and projects at once, and wanting to be in control and on top of things at all times. It's even truer for younger women, who are more likely to be enmeshed in raising a family, working full time and managing a busy household with lots of moving parts.
But a breast cancer diagnosis can easily throw the daily routine out of whack. Life's demands still have their pull, but now there are doctor's appointments to meet, life-altering decisions to make, and very often side-effects from treatment to manage. As a result, breast cancer patients soon discover their regular way of operating needs adjustments so they can focus on their health.
Fortunately, there are vast resources and services readily available through nonprofit organizations and hospitals. It's just a matter of knowing where to turn.
Lianne Tedesco, RN, a nurse educator at the Doris Shaheen Breast Health Center at Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta guides breast cancer patients through the maze of treatment.
"I tell my patients first that they need to get organized. It can be so overwhelming--especially in the beginning, until you get your treatment plan in place and go through your first chemo. It's a full-time job running from doctor to doctor. There's a number of appointments, many difficult decisions to make about options for surgery and chemo...so much to do. This produces a lot of anxiety.”
"I recommend getting a three-ring binder and using one tab for recording lab results, one tab as a calendar for appointments, and one for keeping up with bills. Patients often use different providers and receive a variety of information, so getting organized helps tremendously.”
"Second, if you're undergoing chemo, you need to make arrangements ahead of time, keeping in mind when your treatment dates will fall (typically, every two or three weeks). Plan for the 'bad' days, when you know you’ll feel extremely tired or won't feel well. Schedule your treatments so that your rough time will fall during the weekend, particularly if you have a full-time job. Prepare meals in advance. Run errands and clean house early. Arrange child care. Then, you'll have a lot in place when you don't feel like doing anything.”
"Another suggestion is to take advantage of service companies. For example, there are meal services available, such as personal chefs who shop, cook and clean up afterwards. In fact, I've known women to receive a personal chef as a gift from coworkers. You can also check the Internet for ordering meals. One company (www.homebistro.com) delivers individually packaged meals in dry ice. All you do is place the package in simmering water for five minutes, and the food is excellent quality--not like a TV dinner.”
"There are also laundry services, which clean and fold clothes for one dollar a pound. Several organizations also provide transportation to medical appointments. The Breast Friend and Surviving Inc. are two examples.”
"Another recommendation is to put together an email distribution list of all the people who want to know how you're doing, and send regular updates. This is a great way of preserving time and energy, so you're not fielding 800 phone calls a day when you don't feel like talking.” "I emphasize for patients to utilize their network. Women are not good at accepting help; rather, we take care of everyone else's needs and are pulled in so many directions. Patients need to give themselves permission to allow people to help them. If someone offers to assist, patients need to have a list ready—help with carpooling or picking up medicine or grocery shopping or dropping off a child to soccer practice. People are not giving lip service when they offer--they truly want to help in tangible ways.”
“Without direction, people help in ways they think is best—which is not necessarily helpful for you. Therefore, communication is essential.”
“I forewarn my patients about what to expect from their husbands and children, especially, during this time. Men are not particularly socialized to be caregivers, and just want to fix a problem. As a result, they often don't know how to help. I see women get their feelings hurt when their husbands don't offer to do anything, but men need direction. You need to tell them what you need.”
“This goes for children as well. While your world is crumbling, your teenager goes off to play videogames with a neighbor. Realize this is normal developmental behavior rather than the fact they don't care. Teenagers are naturally self-absorbed during this time of life, and it doesn't mean they don't love you. So, be prepared for this behavior.”
“Communicate to your boss and coworkers as well. Tell them what you would prefer or not want during this time. For example, let them know how much, if any, of your illness you want told to others.”
“Finally, I advise women to be connected with a support group, especially if they don't have their own network of friends, family or a church. Patients need a source of support to access resources, share advice and answer questions. If you don’t know of a support group, call a hospital breast center for information. They can provide resources and people who will help you.”