We asked co-survivors of breast cancer — husbands, sisters, daughters and significant others of women diagnosed with breast cancer –to share their experience in learning about the diagnosis, as well as how their attitude toward breast cancer changed after being touched by it so closely in their lives.
Please be sure to check back here weekly in September as we will reveal 5 more answers every Friday! Also, explore all our past Friday Reflections to help shape your own insights and connections with others united in the cause.
We were always close, so when I found out that my mom was diagnosed, I was completely devastated! I had breast cancer before she did, so I knew what she was in store for. In the beginning, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Her younger sister was a 20-year breast cancer survivor, and at the time my mom was diagnosed, her sister was dying of pancreatic cancer. So, I thought my mom was going to die, too.
She had a tough time and that in turn hurt me deeply, yet I didn’t know how to act around her. When I was in treatment, she wouldn’t let me see her cry because she said she had to be strong for me and that I needed to fight hard. I said the same thing to her, but I think she wanted me to sympathetic and do more to take care of her – so I had to adjust now that I was on the other side of the table. I always saw her as the matriarch of our family – the tough one – so I expected her to be the same and she was, but at times, she wasn’t. I reacted differently towards her and it affected our close relationship in some ways – as if she wasn’t supposed to be vulnerable. Not sure what I was thinking! We are great now as we share our journey as survivors.
Breast cancer was a bad thing lurking in our family, but now it was even worse — too close for comfort affecting my child! It became really personal. We were now at war. I was going on a crusade now, no more thoughts, but action. For my daughter, my family and for every women out there diagnosed with breast cancer. It was big and we needed to get involved in the cause more.
It has affected my relationship with my daughter in that we share a common bond…breast cancer survivor… that has brought us closer. We can confide in each other about our thoughts, fears, and support each other in a way that perhaps others may not fully understand. We have learned that you cannot allow the disease to paralyze you, or stop you in any way. You must remain positive and focused. The outcome of survivorship is possible if you pursue aggressively all the avenues available to you to help you fight the war on breast cancer on all fronts, and win. My outlook is positive it also prepared me for what may be coming in the future.
Breast cancer was the first serious cancer to affect my life. Bonnie’s diagnosis was obviously a shock considering she was a vibrant, strong and healthy person, but we resolved to fight it together. At the time we were boyfriend and girlfriend. It was a scary time, and after we learned of her cancer, we went to dinner. At one point she was crying, and the waiter thought it was because they were out of a guacamole appetizer that she particularly liked! So we at least had some humor to fall back on and at times cling to.
My experiences as Bonnie’s caregiver, while certainly unexpected, forced me to step up in ways I had never imagined. Throughout the ordeal of her treatment, I learned more than I ever wanted to about cancer, and breast cancer in particular, and I came to see that while still a terrible disease, great strides continue to be made to win the battle, and her doctors were amazing. If Bonnie had been diagnosed 10 or 20 years earlier, the outcome might have been tragically different, and I am forever grateful that she is strong and healthy today. And while we are no longer a couple, we remain the closest of friends. Since then, other friends and family, particularly Mary, my sister-in-law, have been affected by breast cancer and other cancers, and many have turned to me for advice and comfort as they begin their journey .
Relation to survivor, Tiffany Mannino: Mother
After 5 years, I can tell you that the day I found out that Tiffany had cancer is a day in my life that I will never forget and remembering it still makes me cry. I lived in Pittsburgh at the time; I flew in to Philly and after she greeted me she said, “Mom, I have cancer.” My world fell apart in those two seconds. My first thoughts were, “Is she going to die?” and “Why didn’t this happen to me?”
In many ways, her diagnosis was a lesson. I knew nothing other than what most women know: you do self-exams, yearly mammograms and you’ll be okay. Now, I read all the literature that doctors give me. I would take notes when we went to visit the different surgeons and all the other people that administer the chemo, the reconstruction…all of it. Then, we would come home and research everything. Still, nothing prepares you for the long journey to recovery. She is a different person now: living in the moment, taking chances, doing things she has never done before. This experience is humbling. We were always very close but the experience has made us close in a different way that only the two of us can relate to and share.
At the first Komen Race I attended in Philly, I remember looking at all the survivors and I cried…I sobbed. Then, I found my baby and she was smiling and waving with one of her crazy scarves on her bald head. I realized I was crying tears of joy because she was alive. Her hair would grow back. All of the other women were smiling and laughing and I thought, “God is good.”
Breast cancer became real after my mom was diagnosed. It was no longer something other people get; it became something anyone could get. It has changed me by making me value life more. Although I know there are many new advances, the reality is that there are still people who succumb to the disease. My mom and I have always been close but I feel we are even closer now. I have also noticed how strong she is and I hope to learn from her. I worry a lot about her after her diagnosis and I’m constantly checking on how she feels. My anxiety has risen since her diagnosis as well.
I consider my mom’s diagnosis as life changing for me. I now refer to events in my life as before cancer and after cancer. I noticed I am stronger than I was before. I consider the disease beatable, but I also see it as sneaky. I hate hearing the stories of someone who’s breast cancer spread or recurred. I am constantly worrying whether or not hers will recur. I try to keep the image in my mind of my mom being stronger than breast cancer that helps me stay positive.
I met Stacy post-breast cancer. We met a year or so after her recovery at a Christmas party. When we met, I had no idea at all. I did not find out until days later. When she told me, I didn’t act surprised at all. I was more intrigued because I have never met someone so young who had it…and she was comfortable to share her story with me. Before I met Stacy, I did not know anyone who had ever had breast cancer.
Since I’ve known her, I’ve been doing a lot of research on it and donating more; her diagnosis has made me more aware. I didn’t go through the chemo with her or through any of the recovery process. Our relationship was entirely post-breast cancer, which is the more important part I think. I think the most supportive part is the post-cancer. I feel more fortunate to be in post-cancer with her because we are now in this fight together. I have never seen women so strong as when they go through this. Stacy now faces things head – she’s stronger than most women I know. This experience has made me more aware and more caring.
I was 14 when my mom broke the news. She continued to reassure me that things were going to be okay, and that she was going to fight this. It took a couple hours for me to fully realize the impact of my mother’s diagnosis. Until this day, when things get rough I always remember that day. I’ll always remember when I looked into my mom’s eyes—I saw a fighter. It always reminds me to keep fighting, and that nothing is ever too bad.
Before my mom’s diagnosis I took my relationships with my family, for granted. I always assumed they would be there for me. Since her diagnosis I no longer take my relationships with any of my loved ones for granted. I make sure I end every conversation with “I love you,” and I never go to sleep mad at anyone. My relationship with my mom was also greatly strengthened. I learned to appreciate all that I had and who I had in my life.
Cancer is a horrifying disease that is unpredictable and overwhelming for both the fighters and the supporters. Knowing that my mom is a survivor gives me a different outlook. I no longer look at cancer as unbeatable. I know it can be beat and I refuse to stop fighting for a cure. My mom’s fight with cancer will continue to follow me throughout my life. It will continue to remind me to be strong. It will remind me to always be happy with the little things. And most importantly, it will remind me to never take my loved ones for granted and to love unconditionally.
My wife received a call from her physician with the bad news. She was upset and crying. At first I was not sure what to say so I just hugged her and made a lame attempt to console her and tried to be positive. My background as an RN gave me the ability to remain positive. I looked at it like my wife was now my patient. That is what kept me objective and able to detach myself from the fact that my wife had CANCER.
I honestly do not believe that my wife’s breast cancer has changed me or our relationship in the least. As a Registered Nurse, I was aware that breast cancer surgery can have a negative effect on a woman’s body image and can have an impact on a woman that men may not understand. Perhaps, at first, this was true of my wife. However, once her surgeries and reconstruction were completed, with her positive attitude, she went on with her life like nothing had changed. She actually became my strength and I admired her more than ever. I’m thankful that my wife is now an 11-year survivor. But there is more work to be done to eradicate this disease.
The biggest change has been perspective. What things in every-day interactions in life are urgent and what are not. Thinking about our boys (Jack and Charlie) and their inclusion in the whole process has been a challenge. We worry about how they feel, what they think, and how any and all of this will impact them. That has layered on a whole different element to being a parent and being a child. Kim and I both include Jack and Charlie in as much of the care and treatment news as possible and that seems to be a good thing. The worry of the unique nature of having a parent with cancer is something that is always on our minds.
I look at cancer as treatable. As something that can be beat. The fact that Kim has cancer and undergone treatment twice fills me with different emotions. The negatives are frustration, anger, sadness and doubt. The positives are hope, gratitude, faith, courage and the spirit of resilience. We are also included in a rather exclusive survivor’s club that, while not a club that anyone wants to join, is a group of great compassion, kindness, empathy and support. That builds my faith in the spirit of communities of all kinds.
It is with sadness that we extended our condolences to Joseph and his family for the lost of their beloved Michele in February 2017. Joseph’s insights below, shared during their couple’s time as survivors, continue to be valuable to those taking the breast cancer journey
Before the diagnosis, we were a happy-go-lucky couple with four children who enjoyed spending our time down the shore. Going through this with Michele has increased my awareness that this is not just an elderly disease. This disease can hit at any age. After my wife went through surgery, rounds of chemo and radiation were next. I sat with her through every round.
Michele did not want many people to know she had breast cancer so my mother became our sole supporter, taking care of the kids. After her beautiful hair started falling out, I took her down to the basement to shave her head with the clippers. The next day we purchased the most expensive wig we could afford. Still many co-workers and the people around her could not tell she had breast cancer. This disease has changed our outlook on life; yes, my wife is a survivor but our lives will never be the same.
The diagnosis has brought many changes but has brought us much closer to one another and our family. Amy is a BRCA1 carrier so she has always gotten many checkups and consultations with her doctors; we had a sense that a diagnosis might be coming. She informed me over the phone when she got the call that she had breast cancer – then we saw each other as fast as we could. It really changed the perspective of things that were once a focus or a worry. We became far more focused on getting Amy better.
Amy’s mother had breast cancer, and with Amy being a BRCA1 carrier it was something we always thought about but all the thinking wasn’t the same once we learned of the diagnosis. With Amy being a survivor, I like to do whatever I can to aid research, understanding, and help in any small way I can to fight breast cancer. At the end of it all, seeing Amy healthy again brought a better perspective about health and love for family to my life and all our lives.
I do not think Tomika ever told me about her diagnosis directly. We were home with our children after school, and the phone rang. I remember her saying “Yes, this is she…” and then her face turned into something I never seen before. Then I knew. She wasn’t able to discuss it with the person on the call, as our children were in the room with us. I took them outside, so she could call them back. When I came back in the house, I just hugged her in silence. The thought of losing her overwhelmed me, so I just hugged her and wouldn’t let go. Eventually she said a silly joke, and we laughed. We have tried to maintain smiles throughout this process.
The diagnosis makes you appreciate that today is a blessing. I have grown more appreciative of each moment with Tomika. As I have witnessed each daily fight from the recovery of the double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery and through the chemo-therapy, it has made me realize how fortunate I am to have her in my life. She is my Hero, my #PinkWarrior.
My wife found a lump, so she went to her breast doctor and he wanted to perform a lumpectomy. After her procedure, Diane and I went to get lunch; four hours later he called and said she had breast cancer. She got a little hysterical, so my younger son and I worked together to calm her down and told her it would all turn out all right – and thankfully it did. As a family and as husband and wife, we’ve grown closer through going pure hell and back.
Kelly informed me of her diagnosis immediately after she received the news from the doctors; I was the first person she informed. The news made our relationship much stronger. As her twin sister, we already had a tight bond… but this made it stronger. I told Kelly she has to be strong for herself before anyone else could be strong for her or with her. I went to as many appointments with her as my work schedule allowed, but made sure I made it to the last chemo session and the day of her surgery. I spent 10-12 hours each day she was in the hospital recovering from surgery. I always told her she doesn’t have cancer — “WE” have cancer and we’re in this together.
I believe it was around 2009 when Janelle informed me; it was after she had a visit with her doctor following a mammogram. In my point of view, our relationship was affected by this in a positive way because not only did it draw me closer to her, it also helped both of us get through a rough time in our lives, together. And with way she approached, it by educating herself on her condition and gaining more knowledge and information on how this disease affects people, we learned a lot about having a healthy lifestyle with the choices of foods we eat and the things in our environment that cause cancer. Not to mention, I gained a completely newfound admiration and respect for the kind of woman she is with her strength and courage she displayed.
My Mother is my Angel on earth. Her faith, strength, and commitment to survival have impacted me tremendously. I always knew she was strong; however I’m forever amazed and thankful to God that she is here. I make sure that I have mammograms every six months because of our family history. I’m mindful of my nutrition; I exercise and, most importantly, focus on these areas with my children as well.
I do feel uneasy each time Mom has a required screening or follow up doctor’s appointment. As much as I know that she leads a healthy lifestyle, and I believe she’s healed, there’s always the thought, will it return? Unfortunately we’ve seen it happen to so many others. My Mother and I are so close; I can’t imagine life without her.