By Adriana Ermter
In our monthly column, senior writer and editor Adriana Ermter shares her personal experiences with breast cancer.
Breast cancer support can look like a lot of things. For me, it began with a self-created checklist that started with advocating for myself and my boobs when I first found the lump in my armpit, which led to my diagnosis of breast cancer. Next and at the recommendation of the breast cancer clinic, my self-support consisted of buying two soft shitty-looking and shockingly expensive underwire-free bras to wear post-surgery and possibly the rest of my life. (I still sleep in them now.)
During treatment, when I laid on the couch or in bed recuperating, I found support in a promise to seek and find more joy and purpose in my life once I resurfaced from feeling deep, deep under water. I kept it too, by returning to coaching competitive synchronized swimming athletes after a near 20-year hiatus from the sport. This has been incredibly rewarding. Along with the support of joy it continues to give me, coaching allows me to focus my energy and attention on others instead of on myself and to give back and support a community of young athletes I believe in very much.
Two years post-treatment, I supported myself once again by halting my daily intake of Tamoxifen. The side effects were debilitating and while I still, sometimes, struggle with my choice to go off the medication, it was a necessary decision to best support the quality of my life. While I am now, gratefully, in remission, my breast cancer self-support continues and includes sharing what I hope is beneficial insight with other breasties, like you. Here are a few ways you can support yourself and others dealing with breast cancer.
Donate to worthy causes like the Breast Cancer Support Fund
A Canadian non-profit organization, the Breast Cancer Support Fund provides financial assistance to women (and men) who need it. Often, these breasties don’t have a support system of their own. Their families may live far away, they could be single mothers or single and divorced women, like me, self-employed and otherwise. A huge number of these breasties, 76 per cent according to the organization, live on less than $25,000 per year while they are in treatment, while 40 per cent are single moms and 48 per cent are younger then 50 years old. Financially supporting these breasties through donations to the organization can help them pay their mortgage, rent and bills, put food in their refrigerators, assist with childcare and so much more. While funding research to end breast cancer is super important, so is helping a woman in your community who is struggling silently, diligently and just hoping to get by every single day.
Advocate for changes to be made in breast cancer screening and testing
Did you know that too many women, like me, who are not considered to be high risk are denied proper breast cancer screening in Canada? It’s true. I was one. Because I was not older than 50 years of age and did not have a familial history or any of the “right’ symptoms (if you overlooked the hard pea-sized lump that I found in my right armpit, which they did), the medical team I first sought dismissed me. It took six months of self-advocacy supported by my GP to secure the screening and testing I needed to diagnosis, despite the odds, that I did indeed have breast cancer. But other women don’t need to be like me and experience this. We can create change for screening.
Non-profit organizations like Dense Breasts Canada are raising awareness about the risks associated with dense breasts and breast cancer and are advocating for change in the mandates surrounding optimal breast cancer screening. I believe in this. I have dense breasts, a fact I never knew until I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And when you have dense breasts, you have a higher risk of getting breast cancer. There’s a chance that if I’d known this, my cancer could have been prevented or I could have been eligible for early treatment. Unfortunately, many provinces don’t allow for breast cancer screening before the age of 50 years, yet 43 per cent of women 40 years and older have dense breasts, which can make spotting cancer on a mammogram tricky business. You can help women receive the screening they deserve and help stop the needless deaths of Canadian women by suspending the current and outdated Canadian breast screening guidelines. It's easy too, all you have to do is add your name to the link here: https://densebreastscanada.ca/add-your-voice/ and then check in with Dense Breasts Canada for updates.
Share your stories with others on the Canadian Breast Cancer Network
Talk is not cheap when it comes to breast cancer. It’s why I write my personal, monthly column for this non-profit organization. I felt incredibly alone when I was diagnosed. My family lives in Calgary and I’m in Toronto. While my close friends were awesome, I live alone and the impact of that, complete with not having my person to cook meals, accompany me to treatment, pick up toilet paper and you name it, all took a toll on both my mental and physical self. Back then, I didn’t know about online communities, like the Canadian Breast Cancer Network, and I certainly didn’t have the energy to search them out online; I was too focused on making it to and through the next day. But now I know and so now I share. I believe everyone’s story is worth sharing, because it helps those dealing with breast cancer feel like someone truly understands what they are going through. Sure, I’m a writer so words tend to flow easily from me, but you don’t have to be to contribute. Reach out, type out and send your message so that you can stand in solidarity with other breasties. Remember, there’s power in numbers. Plus, you never know what impact you might have. My guess is it will be a very positive one.
Follow breasties on social media
I love Instagram because it’s such a quick hit of recognition and not about the clothes I’m wearing or what I had for supper last night (it’s always soup). So, I follow breasties like @MyBreastScreening.ca, @BeTheChoice, @LiveandLet_Now, @MyCancerDoctor, @Breast_Cancer_Awareness, @BreastCancerCCS and more to provide me with insight, education, information, personal stories, medical advancements and everything in between. These Instagram sites help keep me up to date and in the loop. They also make me feel connected to the larger world, which I think is important. When you have breast cancer, life can become insular, at least it did for me. So, when I click onto one of these posts I feel more alive, seen and even heard. It may sound trite, but I promise you it’s not and it takes such minimal effort that I often log on when I’m laying in bed. Insta-breasties are, in my experience, very responsive too and any time I’ve liked or commented on a post, they’ve always answered me. Many of you have also directly messaged me (DM) on Instagram and shared your thoughts or feelings with me about the articles I write here and I am forever grateful when you do. Your words and shared stories and moments fill me with a sense of higher purpose and make me feel like me having breast cancer was not in vain. As a result, I never fail to respond. My Instagram handle is @AdrianaErmter if you ever want to reach out. I promise I’ll write back.
Adriana Ermter is a multi award-winning writer and editor. Her work can be read in Figure Skater Fitness, Living Luxe and IN Magazine, as well as online at 29Secrets.com, RethinkBreastCancer.ca, Popsugar.com and AmongMen.com. The former Beauty Director for FASHION and Editor-in-Chief for Salon and Childview magazines lives in Toronto with her two very spoiled rescue cats, Murphy and Olive. You can follow Adriana on Instagram @AdrianaErmter.