A caregiver’s guide to pesky breast cancer (Maria Heck, Pt. 8)

I’ve received a multitude of correspondence from breast cancer patients who have read my blog posts and columns, as well as their significant others.  One reader told me that I’d opened his eyes to the back story his wife endured, and that he had learned things of which he was previously unaware.  This makes me very happy!  He suggested I write a column containing “helpful hints” for those who have a loved one battling breast cancer. Thanks, Tim, I think I will…

  1. THIS IS PARAMOUNT! Learn how to pronounce the procedure.  It’s mastectomy, not masectomy.  Pronounce that “T”!  Otherwise, it sounds like you don’t care enough to learn about the actual process or you’re an idiot, or both.  I will tell you, if our husbands had prostate issues, you can bet your #$%^&* we wouldn’t say prostrate. Although most Sundays, my husband actually is prostrate!
  2. Don’t say: “Boobs are overrated”.  Obviously, based on everything we’ve been taught since birth, that’s a lie.
  3. Don’t say: ” Your shirts will fit you better”.  This implies she was a porpoise previously, and her shirts were obscenely tight.
  4. Google everything the doctor has told her.  Know what stage and the type of breast cancer she has.  Know what treatment she will undergo.  Don’t presume every breast cancer is the same.  It’s not one-size-fits-all like my Fruit of the Looms.
  5. In the case of chemotherapy and hair loss, don’t say “cute hat” or “sassy wig”.  No one feels cute or sassy without eyebrows, or eyelashes, or a boob.  Or two.
  6. When and if vomiting ensues, you hold that empty popcorn bowl for her.  Wordlessly empty it, wash it, replace it, and tell her you love her. Then put on Maury Pauvich and leave her the hell alone.
  7. Post-mastectomy: it is protocol to have one to three drains attached to the surgical site.  They resemble cow udders with a bulb on the end.  This, to me, was perhaps worse than my mastectomy.  These drainage tubes must be “stripped” regularly (I kid you not).  Preferably by another party other than the patient.  Now, if you were my husband, you may gag considerably, turn pasty beige, and have to leave the room continuously during milking.  This is much like his response during all three childbirths.  Such a strong partner, my man. 
  8. Fetch ice cream as many times as your patient demands it.  Don’t say: “You don’t need ice cream. What you need is a big bowl of mashed potatoes”. (If I was able, I would have thrown a lamp. Or at the very least, spit.  But alas, I ate the potatoes).
  9. Reach into your big bag of love and shower her with it endlessly.  Telling her you love her is key.  But as important as these words, is….
  1. a big, fat, warm blanket
  2. Jolly Ranchers
  3. a journal
  4. every sleazy magazine the store has to offer
  5. ginger ale
  6. a new car
  7. and bezel set diamond earrings

And whatever you do, and I beg of you, don’t tell her that without eyebrows she looks thinner and younger.  She may have just had surgery, but that popcorn bowl full of vomit weighs next to nothing and can easily be thrown across a room.

Hold her hand.  Be present.  Let her weep.  Don’t tell her you know how she feels.  Envelope her in security and adoration.  Love her.  And give her the damn ice cream!


*Reprinted from The Sunday Dispatch*

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