A SURVIVOR’S GUIDE: Dos and Don’ts when supporting someone with cancer

When it comes to Metastatic Breast Cancer, Pink Ribbon Girls can share more stories than they would like to admit. The Pink Ribbon Girls are a non-profit that provides free direct services to clients with breast and gynecological cancers.

It’s the harsh reality of the work they are in. Sixty percent of the clients the PRG currently serve are living with Mets Cancer. This means, 60 percent of the clients they serve will battle cancer for the rest of their lives. While treatable, there is no cure for Mets, and the treatment is often harsh and unforgiving.

Sadly, most people do not fully understand Metastatic Breast Cancer. So many clients will have to explain over and over again that there is no cure and that their treatment will never come to an end. It is not a condition that you can just “keep fighting” through just by staying positive.

Pink Ribbon Girls’ CEO Heather Salazar and Director of Marketing Sarah Gillenwater recently paid a visit to one of their clients at Hospice. As they sat and talked about the disease and the effects it is having on their client’s life and family, they asked her what advice she would give others that are also going through this.

“Live one day at a time,” she responded. “Don’t rush life. Anything can change in an instant and you can’t rely on everything to go smoothly.”

You’ve heard before that no cancer is routine. No two experiences are exactly alike, and because of that, people who are trying to be supportive do not always know how to respond and often say the wrong thing.

Together, the three decided to come up with a top 10 list of dos and don’ts for those who are doing their best to support someone with cancer.


1. Don’t say: “You look great.”

It’s just something to say. You don’t have to say anything at all. Saying nothing is an option.

2. Don’t say things like: “You can do this. I’m a two-year survivor.”

Don’t compare your story with mine. Our stories are not the same.

3. Do acknowledge that you are allowed to have regrets, but keep moving forward.

You can’t do anything about what has already past. Make the best of what’s to come.

4. Don’t say: “Everything happens for a reason.”

You don’t have to go through the pits of cancer just to learn something from life.

5. Do ask people for help.

But also give yourself grace to not want it.

6. Don’t say: “Let me know if you need anything.”

Just freaking show up and do it. If I don’t want you there, I will definitely let you know.

7. Do let me do things on my own.

Stop hovering over me. Hovering is overwhelming. Let me decide what I have the strength to do.

8. …

Unfortunately, the list had to stop there. After number seven, the client’s energy was tapped so they decided that rest would be better than pushing to finish it out.

That’s the clear message here. Living with Metastatic Cancer is not an easy journey. It is both mentally and physically exhausting for both the client and their families.

This is where Pink Ribbon Girls steps in. The PRG mission is to balance the fear and uncertainty that breast and gynecological cancers bring to individuals and families by providing free direct services of healthy meals, housecleaning, rides to treatment and peer support to clients. They have served this particular client on and off since her original diagnosis three years ago.

“You have no idea how much this client and her family mean to us,” Salazar said. “She is a huge part of our lives, and watching her go through this just fuels the fire to want to do more. When her treatment ends, she will leave behind her husband and three beautiful young children. She is just one of so many of clients and their families that are on this journey. We do what we can and wish we could do more. We carry this burden hoping it allows them the mental and physical space to love on their families and focus on living their best lives now.”

Pink Ribbon Girls hopes to use this experience to help educate the community about the reality of metastatic breast cancer.

“At PRG, we are less about the awareness and more about the action. We understand the importance of awareness and research, but they still have a long way to go on the road toward a cure. These clients need us right now. That’s why we are here. They are living with cancer 24/7. It’s not just an October thing for them or us. We are focused on this 365 days of the year,” Gillenwater said.

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