One in every three women will be diagnosed with cancer over the course of her life. More than 33 percent of these diagnoses will result from breast cancer, making it the most common cancer to affect women. In fact, this year alone nearly 700,000 women will be diagnosed with some form of cancer. These statistics make it abundantly clear that cancer touches all Americans in some way, either directly or in the life of a loved one. Research suggests that when struggling with cancer, individuals who feel supported are more able to cope psychologically with the physical and emotional burdens of their disease.
"In my experience, after being diagnosed with cancer, most people are faced with the feeling of helplessness and despair. I have found that having someone to stand by my side gives me the will to continue my battle," comments cancer survivor Becky Johnson.
Although most people want to help loved ones during this challenging time, it's often hard to know where to begin. Here are some meaningful ways to make a difference in the life of a woman battling cancer:
* Keep track: Five lovingly-made meals may be an appreciated gift, but probably not if they arrive all at once! Create a communal calendar where friends and family can sign up for simple chores and meal preparation. Even better, post the calendar online to make it easy for everyone to access.
* Make the cut: Fifty-eight percent of cancer patients fear losing hair more than any other effect of cancer treatment; 8 percent even consider foregoing such treatments to avoid losing their hair. People across the country (including actress Diane Lane) are cutting off their ponytails to help out! Pantene Beautiful Lengths, the first program to turn donated hair into real-hair wigs for women undergoing cancer treatment, is helping women regain some of the self confidence that hair loss may have taken from them. Visit www.beautifullengths.com to see how to get involved.
* Lend an ear: Be ready to listen if a loved one would like to talk - either about their illness or something else. Initially, a person battling cancer may not be able to speak about what they're going through, but it can help to know that a sympathetic listener is there when they are ready to talk.
* Spare the time: Support groups provide strength and inspiration to patients and their families through discussion and community. Though they are usually led by trained professionals, support groups often rely on general volunteers for critical help before, during and after meetings. Local chapters of the American Cancer Society are a great resource for more information on how to become involved.
* Don't wait to be asked: Walking the dog, mowing the lawn, even doing the dishes can often seem overwhelming to a person with cancer. It doesn't take much time to make an ill person's day much easier.
* Share the wealth: Initiatives like the Entertainment Industry Foundation's Women's Cancer Research Fund (www.wcrf.org) support innovative research, education and outreach directed at the development of more effective approaches to the early diagnosis, treatment and prevention of all women's cancers.
Most importantly, reach out to loved ones during the greatest fight of their lives. Anxiety, fear, depression, grief and loss are all common feelings among women battling cancer. Knowing that they are loved, appreciated and cared for can be a tremendous psychological boon.