A breast cancer diagnosis causes a fury of emotions, with plans upended and important conversations moving to the forefront. You sink all of your energy into pursuing treatments and a cure, coping with fear and grief, and tenderly planning for difficult “what ifs.” 

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, presenting an opportunity to spread awareness and lend support to the hundreds of thousands of people impacted every year. Consider these statistics:

  • In 2023, 297,790 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women, and 2,800 in men.
  • It’s the most common cancer among American women, following skin cancers.
  • The average risk of a woman in the U.S. for developing invasive breast cancer in her life is about 1 in 8, or a 13% chance.
  • About 30% of newly diagnosed cancers in women will be breast cancers, in 2023.
  • About 85% of breast cancers occur in women who have no family history of breast cancer. 

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Breast Cancer Awareness efforts began in 1985 by the American Cancer Society; the signature pink ribbon was added in 1992 through a partnership with Self magazine and Esteé Lauder. Read more about its history here. Communities, healthcare providers, businesses, cancer patients, survivors, and families join together every October to:

  • Support those diagnosed with breast cancer, including metastatic breast cancer.
  • Educate about breast cancer risk factors.
  • Stress the importance of regular screening, starting at age 40 or an age that’s appropriate for your personal breast cancer risk.
  • Fundraise for breast cancer research.

While some breast cancer patients feel supported throughout the month, others may feel conflicted. They want to grieve privately or not take part in a “celebratory” atmosphere. Breastcancer.org says it’s important to normalize the range of reactions while honoring the brave, unique journey of each individual impacted by breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Support

When breast cancer is detected early and effective, adequate treatment is available, there is a good chance that breast cancer can be cured. Along the way, It’s vital to have sensitive conversations to understand the patient’s wishes for their treatment and beyond. 

Whether it’s a cure or comfort measures, providers need to offer patient-centered care for the whole person. Families need to support and advocate for the patient’s desires. To gain insight, ask questions like:

“How much information do you want to know about the phase of your disease and possible treatments and outcomes?”

“What are your priorities for your care?”

“To what extent do you want to pursue treatments?”

“If your health gets worse, what measures are you willing to go through for more time?”

“What are you most worried about?”

“What brings you joy?”

Listen, validate, and explore their feelings with follow-up questions. Don’t rush to speak or provide solutions too quickly.

Hospice Care for End-Stage Breast Cancer

If breast cancer is detected late and/or curative treatment is no longer an option, hospice can be the right care for relieving the suffering of patients and their families. 

Metastatic breast cancer, also called stage 4 breast cancer, is the most advanced stage of breast cancer. Metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has spread beyond the breast and nearby lymph nodes to other parts of the body, most commonly the bones, lungs, liver, or brain. It cannot be cured, but treatments such as hormone therapy or immunotherapy can extend life and/or maintain quality of life. 

When the prognosis of a breast cancer patient is six months or less, they can qualify for hospice care and vast resources for pain management, caregiver support, emotional, spiritual, and end-of-life planning, such as healthcare directives, grief support, and more.

“Some people assume that enrolling in hospice means the patient has given up or that they failed in some way—failed themselves, disappointed their doctors, or disappointed their family,” shares Lillie Shockney, former Director of the Johns Hopkins Breast Center, a two-time breast cancer survivor, and facilitator of NBCF Metastatic Breast Cancer Retreats. “But opting for hospice care is NOT giving up. It is about patients retaking control of their lives and spending their remaining time as they want.”

Hospice is proven to improve the quality of life for a patient’s final months, providing time for family goodbyes, final bucket list trips, important celebrations, and fulfilling the patient’s desire to die naturally at home surrounded by people and things they love. 

As a provider in Michigan, Indiana, and Texas, Heart to Heart Hospice is the right hospice for the right care in the right place at the right time. We offer dignity, support, and compassion for end-stage breast cancer patients, including specialty Care Bridge Cancer Care at many of our locations. 

While October is an important month to highlight Breast Cancer Awareness, Heart to Heart Hospice provides support year-round for terminal cancer patients and their caregivers. If you are in our service areas and think you may qualify, contact Heart to Heart Hospice for an evaluation today.