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Metastatic breast cancer

Talking to family and friends

I alienated myself from friends at first, because I did not want to see that look of pity on their faces or listen to people not knowing what to say to me. This only lasted a couple of weeks, as I realised I needed support and my family needed support. I now have a good network of friends. Some offer help by listening, being a shoulder to cry on or just being there when I need them. I found other friends preferred to be able to assist with the practical things, taking me to the doctor, vacuuming, making meals, etc. These friends don’t understand what it is like to live with this prognosis on a daily basis, but I found I shouldn’t expect them to understand. They still want to help as much as they can. – Cynthia

It can be hard to talk to friends or colleagues about your diagnosis and treatment. Often it’s best to just be upfront and let people know how you would like them to treat you. You may welcome their questions about how you’re going, or you may prefer not to discuss your health. It might help to establish early on that it’s okay to cry. Whatever your choice, it helps for people to know.

While people generally mean well, sometimes people can offer unrealistic or unhelpful opinions, ideas and suggestions. This can be frustrating and sometimes even distressing. People might offer advice on how you should or shouldn’t live your life, such as suggesting dramatic changes to diet and lifestyle.

The constant message from others to ‘be positive’ can be unhelpful and annoying. Those who offer information about the latest treatment or cure may not realise that it is generally not helpful.

There is a lot of pressure for me to stay positive and upbeat and on the days when I’m not like that I tend to not go out. I went to a little drinks party last Saturday night and I was quite depressed and I thought, ‘Oh bugger it, I’m going to tell them’. So someone asked me, ‘How are you?’ and I said, ‘Well actually I’m really down’. People don’t really want to know all the time. When people ask me how I am, I start talking about my treatment and people just glaze over and that’s fair enough. I don’t have a problem with that but when people ask how are you, you think, do you really want to know or are they just being polite? – Delia

You may find that after a diagnosis, some friendships do not provide the level of support and understanding that you need. Some friends or colleagues may be able to support you or keep your spirits up. Others might not know what to say, or may say things that are well meaning but unhelpful. Concentrate your energy on being with friends who are there for you.

Discard negative people and situations. Talk about your condition and how you feel openly with friends and family. They will react to your lead. If you are silent, so will they be. – Irene
I find it hard to be tolerant when my friend complains about what seem to be small problems, when I feel like I’m dealing with huge problems. – Min
Don’t listen to any negative stories from friends or relations who ‘know someone’ who has the same. No two people are the same. Every one of us is an individual. Just concentrate on you. Your cancer and therefore your treatment are just for you. – Shirley

Friends or colleagues of people with metastatic breast cancer can phone the Cancer Council Information and Support Line on 13 11 20 to find information, talk to someone about how they’re feeling, and discuss support that may be available.

Dear family and friends, I thought it was hard for you when I was first diagnosed at age 29 with metastatic breast cancer but I was in too much shock/turmoil to really take in what you were going through. I had hit a brick wall with being told ‘Yes it is breast cancer’ but then each individual brick came crashing down on me one at a time days later when I received the report that ‘Yes it has already spread’. I thank you for your ability to guide me in your own individual way. For some it was to do my ironing, others to take my three-year-old for a while, to really listen then ask questions so that together we could fathom out this new medical world we were thrust into. It was only later that I realised just how hard it is and how much it affects you too. Thank you for your patience, the chats, the reminiscences, cuppas, tears, laughs and hugs when I needed them. I thank you all for your individual support on this journey. – Meg