Redefining good days while living with breast cancer

(BPT) – When facing bad news — like something as serious as a cancer diagnosis — it can be difficult to imagine that any day of the coming journey would be “good.” But for many of the millions of men and women in the U.S. who have been affected by the disease, the experience has transformed their understanding of support and redefined their sense of normalcy.

Survivor Karen Martinez was prepared to go through chemotherapy alone, but was thankful to have two friends who insisted they be at her side for every appointment, which sometimes lasted five to six hours.

“They just sat there, and we were either joking, reading or talking,” says Martinez. “For a bad experience — which it was — I still looked forward to it. Not the treatment, but the friendship.”

Other survivors found peace in solitude.

“There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely. I knew I had my family,” says survivor Marisol Rodriguez, a 50-year-old teacher from Portland, Oregon, who, after initially being accompanied by her husband to chemotherapy, eventually chose to go alone. “When your friends want to visit you, in my [Latino] culture, you have to entertain them. While it was greatly appreciated, it did take a lot of energy, so I chose to just relax during this time.”

Both experiences underscore the complexity of support. While many people want to help, they’re unsure of the best way — and what comforts one person might not work for another.

“The worst thing you can say to someone going through this experience is, ‘Well, let me know what you need’ or ‘Let me know what I can do,'” says survivor Tracy Nicole. “No one said that to me because they knew that I wasn’t going to ask for anything.”

Instead, Tracy Nicole’s family and friends helped with things like organizing meals, childcare and other household errands. Through the online platform Meal Train, Jenny Price, Tracy Nicole’s friend, organized a calendar and identified specific errands that friends could help with on certain days and times, including ironing her daughters’ school uniform or preparing meals for the day.

Insights like these from breast cancer survivors and co-survivors inspired Ford “Warriors in Pink” to launch The Good Day Project — an initiative to help friends and family take small, actionable steps that will bring more good days to breast cancer patients.

Free access to Meal Train’s premium service, Meal Train Plus, is offered as part of the program. Warriors in Pink also provides patients with free rides to and from appointments at select cancer treatment centers via the ride-sharing service Lyft. On its website, Warriors in Pink offers a variety of resources and tips for giving “good days.”

Here are some of their “good day” tips for others living with breast cancer and their supporters:

For those diagnosed, in treatment, or in recovery:

* Celebrate small victories: Aimee Bariteau recalls the simple joy she got from being able to walk to the park for the first time after treatment. “Rather than being annoyed that I couldn’t do it before, I was happy when I could do it. It’s a long haul, so when something good happens, be sure to acknowledge and enjoy it.” Fellow survivor Camari Olson documented her surgeries and hair regrowth after chemotherapy in a photo project that she looks back at to remind herself how far she’s come.

* Let others know how they can help by simply listening: “People know they can’t take the disease away from you,” added Olson. “There were times I needed to express my fears about dying or the sadness at having my body forever changed, and my friends and family helped by simply listening and not denying me those fears and feelings.”

* Share your experience and advice with others: Steve Del Gardo says this is especially important for men with breast cancer, as there are fewer support resources dedicated to the male experience. He volunteers as a Peer Support Navigator through the Friend for Life Network to support other men affected by the disease.

For supporters:

* Think about how you can help others affected by someone’s diagnosis, such as their children or partners: Carrie Vieceli was living more than 3,000 miles from her close friends and family when she was diagnosed. Despite her own challenges and day-to-day care needs, she worried about the responsibilities that her husband handled on his own. “He could have used so much support — in caring for me as well as emotional support for himself.”

* Remind your loved one that you’re thinking about them: Take five minutes to send a postcard. Survivor Cati Diamond Stone enjoyed receiving random cards from her friend on a weekly basis. Free Warriors in Pink postcards are available at or at their website.

* Remember your loved one’s interests are probably still the same: While help with physically taxing tasks (laundry, driving, groceries) are much appreciated, don’t assume your friend or loved one doesn’t want to be invited to something they can’t fully participate in. If they love hiking, for example, consider a route that allows them to enjoy a scenic break.

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