About one in eight U.S. women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime, according to Breastcancer.org. The website notes that in 2017 an estimated 252,710 more American women will be diagnosed.
October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month magnified those alarming statistics. The disease stays center-stage when a celebrity like actress Julia Louis-Dreyfuss announces she has breast cancer the night after winning an Emmy. As the battle begins for many, the next question before treatment becomes: how to deal with it?
“When something like this blindsides us, we may think we’ll know how we’ll respond, but we really don’t know,” says Melissa Mae Palmer, author of the book, “My Secrets of Survivorship,” and an upcoming book, Survivorship: Breast Cancer at 40. “You may find a hero’s strength, and you may find yourself more frightened than you’ve ever been in your life. There is no right or wrong way to feel.”
Palmer, who has been cancer-free for three years, emphasizes that while there are numerous factors cancer patients can’t control, there are some they can. Thus, it is important soon after the diagnosis, she says, to come up with a plan that features positivity, consistency, and good support people. Here are four tips Palmer suggests:
- Keep your list of close people – those who stay in touch, are sincere, and provide emotional and practical support. After getting news that knocked you down, you want only the people around who will keep your spirits up. “Laughter is great medicine and takes away stress,” Palmer says. She adds that having a confidant to whom you can express everything is very important.
- Reset your perspective. Following a big-time dose of shocking news, take another look at those who mean the most to you and attach a higher appreciation to them. “Counting your blessings powers the positive attitude that drives the forward motion you need to fight the disease,” Palmer says. “My experience crystalized what was important to me.”
- Help others. Whereas some newly diagnosed may have a tendency to withdraw and think only of their situation, it’s healthy to turn that thought process around and think of ways to aid others in a similar medical predicament. “Find a satisfying purpose,” Palmer says. “Dedicate time to charity. I quickly found out the best way to help others is just being there in time of need, letting people ask me questions and lending a shoulder to cry on.”
- Be your own advocate and believe. Survival rates have improved in recent years; five-year survivor rates have gone up to 90 percent. Diligently research with help from others and come up with a medical team with which you are comfortable. “Be your own health advocate,” Palmer says. “Find a champion physician and believe in yourself. You are worth it!”
“Survivorship is a process we all endure,” Palmer says. “We are all survivors of something. Remember to fight in life because it will be and can be positive when you are ill.”
Melissa Palmer, author of “My Secrets of Survivorship” and the upcoming book, “Survivorship: Breast Cancer at 40,” is battling a rare genetic disorder, Pompe disease. A mother of five, she has an M.A. in Professional Counseling, created The Survivorship Foundation, is active in the American Cancer Society charity “Relay for Life” and co-founded a support group, Cancer Soul Survivors.