What Women with Breast Cancer Want You to Say

In case you’ve somehow missed the flood of pink and social media hashtags, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. To mark the occasion, Rethink Breast Cancer connected us with five young, brave women who have gone through breast cancer and its ramifications.

They shared both what they wish people would stop saying to them and what they wish they would say.

When one in eight Canadian women are affected by breast cancer in their lifetime, this is valuable information for all of us.

Mercedes Buhagiar was diagnosed in March 2016 at the age of 31 with stage III lobular breast cancer. 

“I wish friends and family would stop saying ‘you look so great’ while I was going through treatment. First reason; I felt like in one sentence, they minimized everything I was going through. Secondly, even if I did actually look good, it took all my energy to fake that as much as I could. I was being positive and ‘looking great’ so everyone else around me would feel better that I had cancer.”

“I wish instead of assuming that I looked great, genuinely ask me how I’m feeling. Let me steer the conversation and let me tell you how I’m doing.”

At only 24-years-old, Julie Vickaryous is one of Canada’s youngest breast cancer survivors. 

“This sounds ungrateful, and I don’t mean it that way at all, however…telling a cancer patient that they’re brave, strong etc. is a tad overdone in my opinion. I’ve been crying in doctor’s offices and they try and talk you down from your sadness by telling you how well you’ve done and how strong you are. The brutal truth about cancer is that you have no choice but to be strong, because your other option is giving up.”

“More than anything, I wish people knew that cancer doesn’t end. It doesn’t close the door and walk away, only to be dealt with at check up appointments. It affects your mental health, your physical health and everything involved in that. I’m a little over two years out of treatment and I suffer from chronic pain that stems from my chemotherapy treatment and surgeries. The whole cancer experience that warped my mental health, and it’s a battle every day. I don’t need a hug or anyone’s pity, I need people to understand that this is life.”

Emily Piercell was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer at the age of 27 on August 26, 2015, the summer after she graduated from law school.

“I wish people would stop saying ‘You’re all better.’ I went through five months of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy with tissue expanders, twenty-five rounds of radiation, two other surgeries, a diep flap surgery because my implants failed due to the radiation and two different medications that put my twenty-nine year old body into menopause.  I have come a long way throughout the last two years but I’m not ‘all better.’ I have aches and pains from the continued treatment, I have a whole new body that I have to get used to (and no I don’t like my ‘new’ breasts more than my old ones), fatigue that could last for another three years and the anxiety of recurrence. I will forever be impacted from the side effects of breast cancer.”

“I wish people would just listen and say, ‘I’m sorry you have to go through this.’ Most days I am positive and I believe this positivity has made a huge difference in how well I’ve tolerated each different treatment, but some days I just need to vent or cry. Instead of trying to fix an impossible situation and tell me that ‘It’s just hair’ or ‘Your boobs look better than mine,’ just listen to me and when I’m done my vent, we can move on.”

Valerie Laframboise was diagnosed at the age of 30 on November 26th 2015 and underwent three surgeries in three months: a lumpectomy, an axillary dissection remove her lymph nodes and a mastectomy.

“There are some things people will say without really thinking.  I’m sure they all mean well. Here are some examples:

You don’t look sick.
At least you don’t have to shave during chemo.
Free boob job – yay!!
Free tummy tuck; you’re so lucky!
Oh, you have the ‘good’ kind of cancer (no kind is good).
It’s a good thing you don’t have kids (however, chemo probably took away my chance to have kids).
I though cancer made people lose weight, not gain some.
You’re so young.
Are you cured??
God only gives you what you can handle.
God chose you because you are strong.
My friend’s grandmother had breast cancer; she died.
My neighbour has breast cancer, maybe you know her?
You are so positive.

On the other hand, these are the things they should say.

Cancer can affect women and men at any age.
Cancer sucks at any age.
It must be hard to deal as a young adult in the prime time of your career.
Dating is hard; add breast cancer and a mastectomy with that.
Fertility, low sex drive – I am sorry that everything changes for you.

During my treatments I wish friends, family and coworkers would say:

Let’s go for coffee.
I’m going to the grocery store; can I get something for you?
I can come clean your house?
Have you seen a good movie recently or read a good book?”

Regan Daoust was diagnosed with Stage 2 aggressive breast cancer at 31-years-old, after finding a lump herself.

“Every time someone says ‘good luck’ to me, my stomach turns. I obviously DO NOT have good luck – I was diagnosed with breast cancer at an extremely young age. I know that people mean well, but for some reason it just hits me the wrong way. Breast cancer isn’t the ‘good cancer’ to get – nobody wants to be diagnosed with it and have to go through life-changing chemotherapy, surgery and radiation to have a better chance at living.”

“I wish people knew that there are many types of breast cancer, some have better targeted treatment than others. Funding and research is still needed for triple negative breast cancer. I also wish younger women knew that they can get breast cancer, and to really know your body well and perform self breast exams. I love it when people say, ‘I am here for you’ and truly mean it, or offer, ‘What can I do to help you?’ I am so humbled by the amount of support and love that my friends and family have given. Also, when others honestly and deep down believe I will get through this has really helped when I was in a dark space. I was able to make it through with many smiles, laughs and grateful tears because of them.”

As usual, Rethink Breast Cancer – the self-proclaimed “young women’s breast cancer movement”  – has partnered with a handful of notable companies to garner awareness for the cause and raise funds to empower, advocate, and educate young people concerned about and affected by breast cancer. Until the end of October, you can raise needed funds for Rethink by purchasing some amazing (and, naturally, very pink products) from beloved brands like H&M, Smythe, teapigs, Aerie, EOS, Knixwear and Caryl Baker Visage, to name a few.