Cancer Journeys Foundation

How Do I Talk to a New Breast Cancer Survivor?

I'm a 14-year prostate cancer survivor and cancer advocate and I'm trying to understand the best way to communicate to my younger sister - 12 years younger - who has been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.

Every cancer survivor goes through stages in coming to grips with the disease and how we are going to react to it. I spent a career in the army so my approach was to gather all of the data I could and build my battle plan.

My sister is a much gentler soul and I haven't seen that fighting spirit emerge yet. She still is in the victim stage. Her situation is compounded by the fact that she is single and live more than 100 miles from the nearest family member, and I live on the opposite coast.

I'm the older brother so we always have bit of sibling tension because she tends to perceive my suggestions as "you shoulds" instead of just ideas. I still have that military directness so I try hard to be careful with my phraseology.

Today is her second of five chemotherapy sessions (they are scheduled three weeks apart) prior to her surgery, which currently is scheduled for September.

She lost much of her hair just these last few days and I expect the rest will be gone in the next few days.

I was very fortunate not to have needed chemotherapy before or after my surgery so I don't have a feeling for what she is experiencing.

I've encouraged her to connect with the breast cancer support community but she hasn't done that yet. She has two close girlfriends she is relying on but neither of them have experienced breast cancer. Perhaps she feels joining a support group makes the cancer more permanent.

So, my challenge is how to get her to expand her network to include the breast cancer support community.


2 Replies

Hello Robert, My name is Lisa Lefebvre. I've had cancer on and off for the last 15 years. I'm also starting a new .org to help Loved Ones help cancer patients recovering from treatment. I'm mentioning this because we studied the semiotics of cancer recovery -- the everyday words and images that make up culture.

One thing we found (and this was my own experience, too) is that not everyone wants to engage with the outside world on their cancer journey. There are external Warrior types, but there are also those who are internally-focused, and prefer to process things personally rather than publicly.

Your sister may choose to reach out to a broader circle later. Or not. In the meantime, I'm sure she appreciates the support you are giving her. One thing that I found really useful (and perhaps you did, too), is when people didn't push the positive as in, "Oh, I'm sure you'll be fine" or "Let's focus on the silver lining in this". Instead, when I shared something challenging, by favorite response was, "That sucks". In fact, I had one friend that I called regularly just so I could hear her say the words, "That sucks". Because it did, and I was unable to think or say those words myself.

I feel for you and hope this is helpful. If you want, you can follow us on Facebook at #mendaftercancer. We continue to share information on what to say, do and give to people recovering from cancer.

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Thank you for this thoughtful insight.