Eloise Caggiano is the program director for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and a 7-year breast cancer survivor herself. Below, she shares her story as well as what to say and do if someone you know has been diagnosed.
I was a 33-year-old woman living in New York City with great friends, an active social life, a successful career in public relations, two marathons under my belt and a gym membership card tattered from overuse. All was well in my world. Then I received my breast cancer diagnosis and everything changed. My life was consumed with fighting breast cancer–five surgeries, four months of chemotherapy, shedding my long hair and definitely some tears.
Once I was diagnosed and going through treatments, I could have easily wallowed in my misery, complained, and stayed home feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I chose to get up every day like a "normal" person, get dressed, pop on my wig, and go to work. It wasn't always easy and I had to adjust my workload because I didn’t always feel well and was pretty tired, but I knew if I went to work it would make the day go faster, I'd feel more productive and chances are, at some point during the day someone would make me laugh. None of that would happen if I stayed home on my couch by myself. It was important to me to keep as many things as "normal" as possible -- I wanted to feel like I still had some normalcy in my life, like going to work, going to the gym, spending time with friends.
After I successfully landed on the other side of this disease, I wanted to take the personal trauma of battling breast cancer and put it to good use daily and show others that there is hope after a breast cancer diagnosis. Now, as the program director for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, I am so proud that the money raised at our events – more than $450 million in the past 10 years – helps people get the breast cancer screening and treatment they need, regardless of their ability to pay for it. I was so fortunate to have good health insurance and access to great doctors, but not everyone is so lucky. It’s so rewarding to know the work the Avon Foundation for Women does every day – funding research into new treatments, prevention, and ultimately a cure, and providing life-saving access to screening and care -- could help turn someone’s diagnosis into a story of survival.
When I think back to the fear and uncertainty I felt after being diagnosed, I also think about all that I've learned from this experience, like how something good can come out of something bad, how it strengthened my relationships with family and friends, how I learned so much about myself and what I am capable of, and how it compelled me to change my career. (And I ran one more marathon!) At our Avon Walks, I see sisters walking together in celebration of their mom's survivorship, I see mothers and daughters walking together, I see men walking for their wives -- families and friends all come together to celebrate, support and honor those they love. I'd like to think that every time someone is diagnosed with breast cancer, it raises the awareness for those around them, causing those people to become a little more educated and a little more vigilant about their own health. It's taking something good out of something bad.
If someone you love has been diagnosed, here are just a few ways you can help:
1. When you stop by for a visit, offer to do something specific. "Can I throw in a load of laundry for you while I'm here?" "Can I fix you a sandwich for you to have later for dinner?" "Would it help if I took your kids for a walk for a bit so you have some quiet time?" Sometimes a general "Is there anything I can do?" question gets a "No, I'm fine" response.
2. Offer to contact the person's close friends or family and arrange for someone to accompany them to each treatment. While some people prefer their privacy, many people would love to have the company and support of a friend, especially during long chemo treatments. I would never have asked people to come with me each time, but when my friend took care of all the details and did all of the asking and arranging, I was so thankful to have someone there to keep me company!
3. Don't be afraid to ask how they're feeling or to ask questions about their treatments. Many people opt to say nothing for fear of saying the wrong thing, but you can ask questions! Just pay attention to how your friend is feeling and don't push too hard. Most days I was happy to answer questions and explain all about it, but there were some days when I just wanted to talk about anything but my cancer and me.
4. Offer to join them for doctor's appointments and take notes. Spend some time afterwards going over the information together. These conversations with doctors can be scary, overwhelming, and confusing. It helps to have someone jot it all down and then chat with about it after.
Special Offer: Interested in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer? Get a $10 registration discount when registering at avonwalk.org. Enter the code WALK2 at checkout to receive the discount.