07 Oct Sharing really IS caring
It is widely accepted that a good social support structure is a key contributor to health and well-being. The most common explanation for this being that social support comes with instrumental support, i.e. assistance with keeping appointments, adhering to treatment, etc. But a recent study suggests that there is more to this hypothesis and that, in breast cancer survivors, the basic physiological processes which can be altered by the persons social environment can in turn modulate tumour growth and therefore have a direct impact on mortality[i].
Having experienced and shared several family members’ painful journeys with breast cancer, Mum Norma and daughter Ruth share their truths about the disease and the importance of emotional and instrumental support in the road to recovery.
At a routine gynaecological check-up, 40-year-old Ruth enquired about having her first mammogram. But since her medical aid did not fund these, Ruth decided to wait until she had the money at her disposal.
“It was my husband who, having lost both his parents from cancer, urged me to go for the mammogram sooner rather than later”, says Ruth.
Much to Ruth’s relief, the mammogram was clear. But because of Ruth’s particularly dense breast tissue, it was recommended that she have a sonar scan as well. It was this which revealed a lump in her breast. After a swift biopsy, Ruth was sent home to wait for the results. Although she was not particularly anxious, as Murphy’s law would have it, public holidays conspired to make her wait an entire long weekend for the results. But her world was crushed when she finally saw her gynaecologist who told her she had cancer.
“I knew something was wrong when I was asked to wait in the waiting room even though there was no one else in the doctor’s room. When I finally did go in, it was clear that he didn’t know how to break the news to me and when I started asking questions about the type of cancer and the spread of the disease, admitted that this was not his field of expertise”, she said.
Feeling like her whole world had crashed, Ruth returned to her husband and son, who had been waiting for her outside. All three in tears when she told them, as were her colleagues when she broke the news at work then next day.
Ruth counts herself as one of the lucky ones in that her cancer was found to be slow-growing and she had caught it early enough so that it had not spread. During her lumpectomy and subsequent radiation treatment, Ruth’s husband, mum and other family members rallied around to offer support and to take care of her 10-year-old son.
It was less than a year later when Norma, Ruth’s mum, aged 66 was herself diagnosed with breast cancer. Having a family history and having recently witnessed her 47-year old niece pass away from breast cancer and her daughter’s journey of survival, Norma had been extra vigilant when it came to self-examination. But although she couldn’t feel a lump, she had an instinct that something was wrong. Just like her daughter’s, Norma’s mammogram was clear, but a sonar scan clearly showed a lump. Norma’s biopsy confirmed that the lump was cancerous and she subsequently had a full mastectomy. Norma believes that the support she’s received from cancer support group, ‘Reach for Recovery’ as well as her close family has helped her maintain a positive mindset and has helped her during her recovery process.
“I now treat every day as a special day and have learnt not to put things off until tomorrow. In fact, as soon as I’m well enough, I am having a tea for the whole family at the President Hotel, to celebrate just being alive”, she said.
Both women agree that their journeys would have been more difficult without the support of people who care, be they family, friends, support groups or colleagues.
Or, in the words of Jerry Cantrell, “Part of the healing process is sharing with other people who care”.