Women’s Health Feature: More Than a Pink Ribbon
By: Joy Twesigye, MS, NP Women’s Health Editor
As October closes and we move away from breast cancer awareness month, I ask you to remember one major thing: Families and individuals impacted by breast cancer, or cancer of any kind, need support year round and YOU may be the best person to provide it. Unfortunately, between the chance of a woman having invasive breast cancer (1 in 8) and the chance of dying from breast cancer (1 in 35), MILLIONS of people are touched by this terrible disease. Those millions need a hug, casserole, cards, gas money or a wig. There are many ways to help and sometimes the helpers need help too. The organizations and businesses that I have curated for you (the helper) below were born because the founders’ lives were touched by cancer or other stressful health event and what they needed to make their loved one’s lives better didn’t exist or wasn’t quite right. Lucky for us, they were so industrious– because we can take their labor of love and use it to help support our sisters and families.
What does support look like?
Support can be given in a host of ways. It can be as simple as calling the person and saying you are making a grocery run and offering to pick up things that they need. You could mow their lawn, bring over food and be able to hear “no thanks” to an offer. Just because an offer was declined, doesn’t mean that the intent was not recognized-maybe they are vegetarians and don’t need half a cow in their freezer.
What Friends Do is a lovely website that provides hundreds of specific road tested ways in which friends can help other friends in need every day of the week- year round.
What if you don’t know what to say?
Having the gift of gab doesn’t mean the words coming out of your mouth are helpful. I have personally found these cards to say the right thing.
Kathy’s Care Cards was founded by Kathy Boston in 2003. She couldn’t find a card that sympathized about chemo or acknowledged cancer in a special way. Kathy created her line of cards after a mutual friend, Tish, was diagnosed with breast cancer (Tish is doing wonderfully today). As a friend and a nurse she wanted to provide cards that acknowledged that her friends were battling for their lives. She knew she could write “just the right thing.” She was right.
What if everyone is trying to help and it is turning into confused mess?
In times of crisis it helps if the family chooses a small group (1-3) to coordinate helping efforts. That way the family only has to talk to one person about logistics or needs and wants instead of answering each individual offer in real time. Once the coordinators are chosen, it is helpful if they become the primary communicators to the larger support network. They can say something like “Julie is honored that so many people want to help in her time of need. Since she is focused on going to appointments and getting well she has asked us if we could help coordinate all the good energy being sent her way. We have set up a website where people can sign up for food, child care shifts, etc.”
There are several truly useful personalizable websites that can be used by the family or care coordinators for communication so that no one feels left in the dark about updates and everyone is on the same page in terms of tasks that need to be done.
CaringBridge Sona Mehring created the first CaringBridge site after a friend had a premature baby in order to share information with friends and family in a private- but public way, which was brand new in 1997. This turned into a vibrant nonprofit. More than 500,000 people connect through CaringBridge every day to view sites where people can post health updates or use the SupportPlanner that helps family and friends coordinate care and organize tasks, such as bringing a meal, taking care of pets and other needs.
LotsaHelping Hands This is another free website where you can create open or private pages to coordinate services. This service differs from others because you can search for volunteer opportunities in your community via the open sites.
What Friends Do In addition to providing great tips for daily helping from near or far this site also provides coordination tools.
If you need to organize activities, a coordinator (family member or close friend) completes a brief registration process, and a FREE “Team website” is created. In just a few minutes, the WhatFriendsDo.com webtool will help you customize a Team website that can be used to coordinate schedule, provide updates, share photos and much more.
If you can’t find what you are looking for build it.
For those of us who don’t have the skills to generate a cure- we should be poised to support our sisters and families.
Joy Twesigye, MS, MPP, WHNP-BC has a diverse background in health care that equals over 10 years of direct care delivery, working with government agencies/programs, public and private payers, and health care institutions. While living in Colorado, she was the Clinical Supervisor and Chief Operating Officer for a non-profit women’s health clinic and a health plan manager for Colorado’s Child Health Plan Plus. She received her undergraduate degree from Ohio Wesleyan University, masters in science from The Ohio State University and masters of public policy from Johns Hopkins University. Continuing her quest for answers, she also completed the Bighorn Leadership Program as a Health Policy Fellow and was a Paul G. Rogers Memorial Scholar with the National Coalition on Health Care. Joy is a fervent believer in social entrepreneurship and loves being at the intersection of health innovation, tech, and business.
*Nothing in this article should be considered a replacement for personalized medical advice/treatment from a health care professional. MyCity4Her does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.