The worst thing you hear when you’ve found a breast lump? You’ll be fine!

The worst thing you hear when you’ve found a breast lump? You’ll be fine!

When a friend recently found a lump in her breast even I had to rein in the urge to start trotting out all of the ‘reassuring’ talk about most lumps are benign, how many people I know who found lumps that turned out to be cysts, how sure I was that she’d be fine etc etc.

I say ‘even I’ because, in You can get through this, I included a whole section on the fact that, as long as there’s even a faint chance that your lump is cancer, all of the statistical probabilities and reassurances in the world aren’t going to take that nagging fear away.

It’s human nature to want to make the people we care about feel better but, unless we’ve experienced that anxiety for ourselves, it’s easy to misjudge what people really need.

In my case, all I wanted was for people to acknowledge that I might have cancer and that it was reasonable for me to feel afraid. Once that was established, I was able to put it aside, at least for a little while, and get on with a more normal conversation. And, judging from the feedback I’ve had over the years from the women I’ve spoken to or who have read the book, I’m not alone.

It may not be intentional but telling someone in this situation ‘you’ll be fine’ can feel like shorthand for ‘you’re overreacting’ or even ‘I don’t want to talk about this’. If someone you love finds a breast lump, my advice would be to acknowledge her fear, make sure she has someone to go with her when she has those tests and then do something you’ll both enjoy. And, of course, this would apply to anyone who fears he or she has any form of cancer.

Incidentally, I never intend to exclude the men who have breast cancer from this kind of conversation but I have only ever spoken to and heard from women.