You know that mom friend who never judges you? The one you can call and say, “Hey, I’m coming over with the kids,” and neither of you worries about whether or not the house is clean because you know your kids will be entertained and you can get some mom-friend time?
For me, that is my friend Kate. We were pregnant together with both of our kids, have a lot in common, and are completely comfortable with one another. So, when she asked me to feel a lump in her armpit, I didn’t hesitate. “Yeah,” I said, “it is a little big. I am glad you’re going for a biopsy this week.”
When I nonchalantly checked in with her a few days later, I never imagined I would be hearing the words “metastatic breast cancer.” We are both in our mid-thirties, so while I have had older family members battle cancer, I have never had it touch my life so closely. My immediate instinct was to fix everything, and since that was not possible, I took to Google.
Unfortunately, there is not much out there about how to support a mother with young children who is facing chemotherapy and its side effects, radiation, surgery, and the ever-present fear of leaving her children motherless. My heart was aching, and I had to do something. I hope you are never in this situation, but the unfortunate reality is that we may all face the same heartache at some point in our lives, so I wanted to share how my friend felt most supported.
I had no idea how much was involved in prepping for treatment. She was scheduled to start chemotherapy two weeks after her diagnosis and was scheduled to have a port put in within a week, so we had to move fast. I put together a basket of items that would help her feel more comfortable during her treatments. The items she found most useful were:
- a warm blanket for chemo. It is cold in there, and Kate chose to use cold caps so she wouldn’t lose her hair. (A cold cap is a headwrap that is -27 degrees Celsius that is worn for multiple hours.) I found a soft blanket that said “Best Mom” to remind her what she was fighting for.
- warm clothes and fluffy socks—again, because the treatments make you feel cold.
- open-toe sandals, not thong-style. You can’t wear socks with thong sandals, so make sure to get a pair that allows you to wear those warm, fluffy socks.
- loose-fitting shirts with buttons for easy access to the port.
- healthy snacks.
- ginger drops, or other nausea supports.
- stress-reducing coloring books.
This is also when you should start researching cold caps. Changes in her physical appearance (weight gain, skin color, and the threat of losing her hair) were the most difficult psychological hurdles for Kate. She used cold caps and *did not* lose her hair, and she feels strongly that this helped her to not feel sick every time she looked in the mirror and allowed her loved ones to not see her as sick every time they looked at her.
Interesting Fact: Chemo is not quick. We are talking hours, friends. Here are some ideas for supporting a loved one during their treatments.
- Clear your schedule. Time goes more quickly when you have someone to talk to. Be there with your loved one to visit while they receive their treatments.
- If your friend chooses to use cold caps, spend some time learning and practicing how to put them on. They need to be changed every 20 minutes to ensure the hair follicles remain frozen, and it takes a couple of minutes to get them ready. We set a timer for 17 minutes after getting one on, and after it ran out I began prepping the next cold cap.
- Acknowledge each accomplishment. While Kate received her first treatment, I secretly decorated her car as a surprise for when she walked back out to the parking lot that evening. I wrote inspirational phrases and even threw a few funny drawings of breasts on there to lift her spirits. At the halfway point, her husband had their nanny decorate the house to celebrate her progress.
- Plan to deliver meals or help with children more during the first week after treatments. This is when side effects are most intense, and extra support during that week is important so your loved one can rest.
- If surgery is needed, ask your loved one what would be most helpful. Childcare, driving children to and from activities, and providing meals are always helpful and appreciated.
Every cancer diagnosis is unique, and every person’s emotional needs are unique. This makes it harder to create a detailed list of recommendations. Kate did not mind talking about her diagnosis, but she also wanted to continue living life as normally as possible. Follow the lead of your loved one, and be ready to acknowledge all their feelings. Careful listening can give you great insight into what the most appreciated gestures could be. My heart goes out to anyone experiencing a cancer diagnosis, and I applaud all the friends and families willing to do whatever it takes to provide love and support during that challenging time.