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Breast Cancer Support


Today we are going to talk about Breast Cancer support.  First, I’ll share some general information; second, I’ll outline my thoughts as a breast surgeon; and third, I’ll provide some useful links with information on treatment, support groups, and more.

The Diagnosis

Let’s begin with the diagnosis of breast cancer which is a traumatic and emotional experience for both the patient and for the patient’s family.  While there are numerous resources available, it is important that the patient has a strong support system which may include friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, clergy, and the various health care providers involved with the patient’s care.

Support may be formal and organized, such as attending local support groups or seeing a social worker or therapist; it can also be informal, like chatting with friends, your health care provider, or other cancer survivors.  There are several online support groups available, too, which are listed below.

What kind of support should a patient need? 

The kind of support a patient may need varies considerably depending on the patient.  Some may just need someone to talk to or for someone to just listen.  In more severe cases, patients may need therapy or antidepressant medication.   Other patients need more practical help, ranging from food preparation and grocery shopping, to transportation to and from treatment

Patients should not be afraid to ask for help.  People will often ask, “What do you need?” and many patients reflexively answer, “Nothing.”  People who want to support those with cancer can do something proactive such as saying, “I’m bringing you dinner”, “I’d like to come over and spend some time with you”, or “Do you feel up to going to a movie?”  All of these are great when it comes to supporting someone you know.  

Patients may find that people are awkward around them because they are not sure what to say or how to treat a patient with cancer; the answer is simple:  treat them like you would treat anyone else.   The patient should also understand that some people stay away or act strangely around them, not due to an issue with the patient, but due to the awkwardness  or people in general.

It is important to note that the significant others (e.g., husband, wife, partner, and so on) of the patient may also require support.  It’s very natural and normal for them to be stressed as well.  Everyone needs to cut each other some slack in stressful times.

What is my role as the surgeon?

As a Breast Surgeon, what is my role and how can I support patients? I want my patients to know that I am there for them to explain things, to answer questions, to listen to their concerns, and point them in the right direction.  But, since every patient is different, it is hard to assess each patient’s needs specifically.  The best thing I can do is to get the patient to tell me what their concerns are.  Tell me.  Email me. Call me.  I can talk with patients and their family members and so can my Nurse Practitioner. I can refer patients to social workers and therapists, as well.  I can make their Primary Care Providers (PCPs) and Oncologist aware of issues, as we are all one medical team.  We always ask, “What do you need?” and “How can we help?”  Remember, you are not alone and you do not need to be.  You do not have to go through workup, treatment, or recovery alone.  We are here to help and support you!

Breast Cancer Support Resources

Howard M. Karpoff, MD, FACS, is an Oncologist and Breast Surgeon at Crystal Run Healthcare and sees patients in Crystal Run's Middletown office.