Chances are you know someone or have someone in your life who has dealt with breast cancer in some way, shape or form. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, regardless of race or ethnicity. According to Breastcancer.org, about one in eight women in the U.S. (about 12.4 percent) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her life.
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While this number seems overwhelming, there is some good news. Breast cancer rates in the U.S. began decreasing in the year 2000 after increasing for the previous two decades. But what do all these numbers actually mean?
Well, for one, it means that while breast cancer remains the most prevalent cancer in women, scientists are working overtime to ensure more people are surviving the disease and going on to resume their regularly scheduled lives. They’re going back to work. They’re starting families. They’re advocating for other people who have recently been diagnosed. They’re living the life they had imagined before cancer threw a wrench into those plans.
Most of us call these people “survivors,” but there is no promise they will remain survivors. Cancer doesn’t just pack up and walk away after the chemotherapy, radiation or surgery. There is no guarantee that someone who has been through treatment for breast cancer will never hear those four words again: “I’m sorry. It’s cancer.”
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is upon us, and typically, this time of year is overrun with pink ribbons, pink cookies, pink just about everything you can get your hands on. Beyond proudly wearing your ribbon in honor of your friend, relative or coworker, here are some other ways you can help those who are surviving and living after a cancer diagnosis.
Here’s the thing with surviving cancer: It takes its toll on your entire life. Many of those who have been treated for cancer find themselves unable to work during that time because of the wallop chemotherapy serves to the body. While there are great companies out there that will work with patients during their treatment, many will not, leaving those surviving cancer unemployed.
This year, rather than raising money through your company for a cancer organization, why not hire someone who is surviving cancer? Chances are you’ll find an employee who is eager to get back to work and will be driven to succeed. You want an employee that’s going to get shit done? Hire someone who’s had cancer; they can crush any challenge you send their way.
Many of those aforementioned survivors of breast cancer are opening their own businesses, living out their dream of owning their own shop because nothing screams “time is short” like a cancer diagnosis. That independent coffee shop on the corner that you always walk past or that cute clothing boutique that you’ve been meaning to pop into could very well be owned by someone who has been affected by cancer in some way. Take some time, get to know your local shop owners and do your research; you may be missing an opportunity to support a cancer survivor.
If you work in the legal field, there’s a strong chance those surviving cancer can use your help. There are a number of former patients who have experienced injustices during and after their treatment who could use a legal mind. Organizations like National Cancer Legal Services Network are designed to help those who are in need of legal services they might not be able to afford. Pro bono work is a great way to give back to former cancer patients — one that will have a direct impact on their lives.
Sure, some products are emblazoned with a pink ribbon, but do they really help with breast cancer research or charities? Check this guide to brands that are true to their word on supporting cancer research this year. A portion of your purchase price will really go to a good cause.
If you really want to be sure that your money is going towards supporting cancer charities and funding research towards finding a cure, dust off those check books or debit cards and donate. By donating directly to cancer research centers and foundations created to assist those living with cancer, you can ensure that your money is going right to the source. To find the best ranked charities to donate to, check out Charity Watch or Charity Navigator.
Sometimes, the best thing you can do for someone surviving breast cancer is to just be there. Most people think as soon as the treatment is over, that person is cured, but that’s not always the case. There are still the emotional and physical side effects that need to be dealt with.
Just because someone is no longer spending hours at the oncologist’s being pumped full of chemicals, doesn’t mean they are no longer dealing with the by-products of treatment. Exhaustion, changes in taste, neuropathy (numbness in extremities) and chemo brain (thinking and memory problems that can occur after chemotherapy has ended) are just a few of the lingering effects of chemotherapy. Your friend could probably use some help around the house or a night out to celebrate the completion of their treatment. Just because they had cancer doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed to party anymore!
Life after cancer can be just as confusing and frustrating as life with cancer, so rather than pinning that ribbon to your shirt in support, reach out to someone actually surviving breast cancer. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel (and how many holes you’ll spare your clothing).
A version of this story was published October 2019.
Before you go, check out these products that breast cancer survivors can actually use: