To Lighten Your Load, Share the Burden of Breast Cancer

October 09, 2017 6:00 AM

A U-M breast cancer patient describes how hospital resources, and the support of family, helped her navigate treatment.

All the pink we see in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month is akin to the burden a woman faces when diagnosed with the disease. Like those little pink ribbons, breast cancer seems to infiltrate every aspect of a person’s life.

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“A patient going through cancer treatment is under a tremendous amount of stress,” says Jennifer Griggs, M.D., MPH, director of the Breast Cancer Survivorship Program at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“For many people, being diagnosed with and getting treated for cancer is the most trying thing they have faced. As an oncologist, I can see this burden on their faces and the weight of this worry on their shoulders.”

Griggs’ advice: A burden is always lighter when it’s shared, so turn to loved ones and caregivers for help.

For example:

  • Discuss your worries with a social worker who has knowledge in cancer care.

  • To relax, try complementary therapies, such as guided imagery or art therapy.

  • Share concerns about treatment and medication expenses with your health care team.

  • Communicate with family members.

  • Accept help from community members for meals, rides or errands.

  • Ask for a cancer patient navigator to help manage your treatment plan.

  • Partner with a dietitian to learn the best foods to fuel your body during treatment.

That’s exactly what Michele Galgoul, 66, did upon receiving her diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer in 2015. The news came at a particularly stressful time. She was uninsured and unable to pay for treatment.

“Michele was committed to being her own advocate and called on resources that we have here in the Cancer Center. That helped us access community resources on her behalf,” Griggs says.

Galgoul used many services available at the Cancer Center’s Patient Assistance Center, such as counseling, help with financial aid forms and a free wig when she lost her hair from chemotherapy.

SEE ALSO: 7 Ways to Help Prevent Breast Cancer [Infographic]

Galgoul also relied on her family for emotional support. Her adult son, Nicholas, was a primary caregiver during treatment. Her other son, AJ, bought her pink items in support of breast cancer, including a pair of embroidered cowboy boots.

At the Cancer Center, Galgoul met with social worker Veronique Mosby, LBSW, who counseled her throughout her cancer experience.

“She was my lifesaver,” she says of Mosby. “I would always stop and see her when I went in for my infusions at the breast center.”

The burden of breast cancer for Galgoul is lighter these days, as she has finished treatment and is enjoying time with her grandchildren until her scheduled mammogram in November.

“We live for our grandkids. They’re so much fun,” she says. “They helped me get through it.”