25 years ago, there was no pink ribbon. Women around the world were dying from breast cancer and there was very little discussion about it. Evelyn H. Lauder saw an urgent need to bring breast cancer to the forefront and shine a spotlight on this world health issue.

Relationships on Female First

Relationships on Female First

In 1992, she became a pioneer ‘for the breast cancer movement, co-creating the Pink Ribbon and launching The Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Campaign. A year later, she founded the Breast Cancer Research Foundation®(BCRF), a non-profit organisation, to generate funding solely dedicated to breast cancer research.

To mark the 25th Anniversary of The Campaign, The Estée Lauder Companies has a new mission: to create a breast cancer-free world. A bold, thought-provoking visual of a tattered Pink Ribbon is being introduced, showing the wear and tear of 25 years of hard work, dedication and impact trying to cure this disease. It also represents the hope that in 25 years, there will be no need for a pink ribbon; breast cancer will be committed to the history books. The Campaign no longer carries the word “Awareness” as breast cancer now has the global spotlight it deserves, moving into the future with a new rally – it’s time to end breast cancer.

We spoke to two women who have been affected by breast cancer with 20 years between them to find out what the differences and communalities have been in their experiences.

Melanie (57) and Alaina (38) both from Hertfordshire, have never met, but have shared remarkably similar experiences of breast cancer – though separated by 20 years.

Melanie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997, aged 37, having found a lump while she was in the shower. Earlier this year, Alaina also found a lump in the shower and has since begun treatment for breast cancer. Melanie had two young children, then aged 10 and 8; Alaina’s children are 12, 9 and 3.

While their experiences are separated by 20 years, Melanie and Alaina have navigated similar difficulties; from coping with the gruelling effects of chemotherapy; to losing their hair; to having to explain to their children that they had breast cancer. While Melanie’s sister has since developed breast cancer, neither of the women’s breast cancer is caused by genetics; it was just ‘bad luck’ in both their cases. But both were overwhelmed with support after they were diagnosed and had a huge amount help from family, friends and co-workers.

However, whilst their experiences have been very similar, 20 years makes a real difference and Alaina has noticed that people today are very aware of breast cancer and better understand what people need when they’re undergoing treatment. Fundraising events and sessions run by a variety of charities have helped to increase awareness over the years, and while Melanie found that no other mums in the playground in 1997 had ever met anyone with breast cancer, let alone someone in their 30s, communication has improved and Alaina knows lots of women who have also been affected by breast cancer, largely, she believes, because people are much more willing to talk about it now.

Alaina has also found social media to be hugely helpful. Melanie didn’t even have a mobile phone when she was being treated, but Alaina has been about to use Whatsapp and Facebook to keep her family and friends updated on her progress. While Melanie had to pass phone conversations to her husband when she couldn’t bear to repeat her updates to someone else, Alaina can simply post to a Whatsapp group with all her friends, or reply to a question on Facebook so everyone can see how she’s doing.

Both women agree that breast cancer is an awful disease and that a cure needs to be found soon to prevent more women from going through experiences like theirs.

Top 10 tips for supporting a partner going through breast cancer treatment:

  1. Learn about the illness and treatment. Do as much reading as possible about the type of cancer your partner has and understand what the process to recovery is.
  2. Listening is such a supportive tool and might seem like a small thing, but at a difficult time it’s the small things that really count. Your partner might not only want to talk about what’s going on with their diagnosis or treatment, but also talk about the home and delegate tasks to ensure that family life keeps running smoothly.
  3. Go to appointments with them even if they say that’s they’re fine alone. It’s important that you’re there to provide support and be an extra pair of ears as well – at appointments there’s often so much to take in and sometimes the shock can make everything seem like a blur. It’s in these sessions as well that important decisions are made so it’s vital to have someone to chat through different routes.
  4. Talk openly. During treatment, a person’s body will change and you should reassure them as much as possible that they’re still attractive, your love for them hasn’t changed and you’re going to be there to support throughout the process.
  5. Be there. Probably the most important thing is to be fully present. They’re bound to feel traumatised by the diagnosis, as it will be a gruelling process - and you'll no doubt feel the same way. After surgery, they’re likely to be in pain, so be mindful that your partner might not be sore under the arms, making it hard to lift and reach upwards so be there for give them a helping hand.
  6. Household chores. Your partners priority won’t be to keep up with chores as after gruelling treatment they’ll feel drained and exhausted, therefore picking up these tasks will go a long way.
  7. Food & Drink. Your partner might lose their appetite and be put off food so if you make them a nice meal and they’re not over the moon about it, don’t take this to heart and keep trying different things. Smoothies and protein shakes are very nutritious and easy to eat so try a variety of juice drinks.
  8. Keep in touch with friends and family. Concerned friends and family will want to know what is going on and your partner might not want to be in constant communication due to being tired so a supportive spouse can be a great assistance in keeping loved ones up to date.
  9. Keep date nights. Just because your partner is going through treatment, doesn’t mean that they don’t need time to switch off, feel loved or be pampered so make sure that date night’s don’t slip. If they’re feeling tired and don’t fancy going out, why not just have a cosy movie night?
  10. Get extra support. Your partner might have the most supportive friends and family and might feel like they don’t need to talk to anyone else, outside this circle. However, there are things that they might not want to discuss with they’re nearest and dearest in, order to not scare them - so it’s always good to have an impartial and confidential person at hand.

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