The medical community is finally producing data that show something that cancer patients know intuitively: It takes a village to get through treatment. A recent study from the University of Michigan found that when women who face breast cancer surgery walk into their first appointment, they’re usually not alone.
According to the study, half of the more than 2,500 women surveyed, patients with early stage breast cancer, involved three people in the process of deciding whether to have surgery. Another 20 percent involved at least two people in that decision process. And three-quarters of those surveyed brought friends or family along to appointments and treatments.
Honestly, I wish the study had found that 100 percent involved friends and family in these life-and-death decisions, and in these harrowing treatments.
Cancer research is producing ever more options, ever more ways to grab more time, or to be cured. But that also means that deciding what to do is ever more complex. It’s not like an old TV show where you can say, “Do everything you can, Doc.”
You need trusted advisors, both medical and personal, to help you decide what’s best for you. Do the benefits of a treatment outweigh the side effects? What will recovery be like? What will your life likely be like in the years after treatment? The questions go on and on.
Every week or so, I get an email from an acquaintance, a relative, or a friend, asking me to reach out to someone who’s just been diagnosed with cancer. I always make that call, or write that email.
Only about half of these cancer patients get back to me. That’s fine. Some people are more private than others. Some feel awkward about discussing a personal medical crisis with someone that’s just a friend of a friend. That’s totally understandable.
I just hope that every cancer patient reaches out to someone. This is just too tough a journey to go it alone.
I had friends who took notes during my first appointments, others who brought meals, still others who took care of my daughter or held my hand during chemo infusions or drove me to the last radiation treatments when I was too exhausted to get there on my own. I hold a place in my heart for each one of those people. I am so grateful to them.
Reach out to the people that you love and love you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are not alone.