With my recent columns regarding breast cancer (and I promise, this is the last one), I’ve received multitudes of correspondence from breast cancer patients as well as their significant others.
One reader told me I’d opened his eyes to the back story his wife endured, and he learned things of which he was previously unaware. That made me happy. Not that he was unaware, but that he learned things. 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 didn’t care enough to learn about the actual process, or you’re an idiot, or both. And, I will tell you, if our husbands had prostate issues, you can bet your butt 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 breast cancer she has, what type breast cancer she has and 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. If and when vomiting ensues, hold that empty popcorn bowl for her, wordlessly empty it, wash it, replace it, and tell her you love her. Then put on Maury Povich and leave her the hell alone.
6. 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 “milked” regularly (I kid you not) and 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 very much like his response during all three childbirths. Such a strong partner, my Nancy.
7. Fetch ice cream as many times as your patient demands it. Don’t say, for example, “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).
8. Reach into your big bag of love and shower her with it endlessly. Telling her you love her is key, but also as important as those words are, so is a big, fat, warm blanket, Jolly Ranchers, a journal, every sleazy magazine CVS has to offer, ginger ale, a new car and bezel set diamond earrings.
9. Whatever you do, 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.
10. 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 damned ice cream.
Maria Jiunta Heck of West Pittston is a mother of three, a librarian and a business owner who lives to dissect the minutiae of life.