Women's Health Advice: Top tips and advice from a doctor/mother/patient for surviving and thriving during and after breast cancer – or any medical crisis 

Tip #1: If you are going through any kind of health crisis, please send this to your friends and family members. Help them know how to help you.

"I am a physician, mother of young children, originally diagnosed in May 2008 with stage 3, triple positive breast cancer."

This was the first line of the most important, informative, insightful, life-affirming and life-saving posts I've ever read on any online community message board for women's health. It is so important I am sharing it here in two parts. This is how we support each other; how we protect and educate ourselves and how we do all we can as women to demand the best, smartest and most accurate medical care we can.

This woman's diagnosis was breast cancer, but her advice (as a doctor, patient and mother) applies brilliantly to any medical condition or diagnosis any of us has received or may get in the future. This is me, as a teacher, connecting us all with a great resource. I want us all to be armed to advocate for ourselves, come what may.

In that spirit, here is Part I:

Be Positive:First and foremost: be positive! People want help, but not pity. I had enough of my own anxiety and fears for myself, I could not take on other people's fear —meaning, crying and long faces just made me feel worse. What I needed to hear from friends was: "I am so sorry that you have to go through this, but I know that you can do it, and I am here to help."

Get Help: Help should focus on being supportive during cancer treatment.

Treatment: Treatment can consist of any combination of surgery to remove the cancer (lumpectomy or mastectomy), chemotherapy to kill any cancer cells that may be "hiding" outside the breast and radiation to mop up any local cancer cells that were missed by surgery or chemo. If one is unlucky to need all 3 treatments, the process can last for over a year.

Ask for Help: During treatment time, a great way to help is to aid routine tasks such as meals, childcare, housecleaning, rides to treatment, and car-pooling kids.

Designate a Point Person: It is easiest to have a close friend or family member serve as a point person for organizing help and providing health updates throughout the various stages of treatment. There are great websites to help coordinate activities such as: lotsofhelpinghands.comand takethemameal.com. These websites allow you to list specific food preferences, when / how food should be delivered, local restaurants that deliver, etc. Many of them also allow you to post updates and list different ways to help.

Meals: The easiest is probably to have a cooler outside and to ask people to bring items in disposable containers (don't want to worry about returning pans during chemo). Many people experience food aversions and nausea with chemo, so it is a huge help to have dinner made for the rest of the family.

Ask For What You Need: Once a point person is chosen, he/she should touch base with the woman dealing breast cancer to find out who exactly should be contacted, what is needed (and what is too much — for instance, some people might not want all of the neighbors doing the gardening or not have the freezer space for frozen meals), and what exactly should be said.

Telling Friends: While some people are very private, enough information should be given to save that person a lot of questions. For example, a letter can say:

"Dear friends, Jane Doe has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. In two weeks she will undergo a lumpectomy followed by 5 months of chemo therapy and 6 weeks of radiation. We would like to help her get through this by coordinating meals, car-pooling the kids, and arranging play-dates for the kids on chemo days. Please go to the following website to sign up to help. For those of you who are out of town, the website lists local restaurants that can deliver, and Jane also loves the local Red Door Salon and will be shopping at Whole Foods for vitamin supplements if you care to send a gift card."

This is just the beginning.

Part 2 will offer more excellent tips on how to survive and thrive during and after a medical crisis.

Get more great women's health advice here:

Best Women's Health Advice: What I wish I'd known before treatment

Best Mother's Day Gift? Help Mothers Take Care of Our Health - Give her a Mommagram

Medical Errors: ER Doctor Felt 'Helpless' As His Mother Died

Aging and Anorexia Part II: Advice on Eating Disorders in Midlife and Beyond

Anorexia and Aging: Is There a Silent Crisis of Eating Disorders in Older Women?

Mean Girls: Is Your Mother Being Bullied in Assisted Living?

God Complex: A Doctor's Arrogance Can Kill You

Research: Best Mother's Day Gift a Mom Can Give Herself is Kindness


About the Author

Pam Cytrynbaum

Pamela Cytrynbaum teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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