Mentoring, PART II

Living with a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis is, well, life-changing. Navigating this big life change can be incredibly difficult. Support systems are of crucial importance. One such support structure of importance to me has been a special mentor/mentee relationship. Mentorship has played a big part in helping me understand the disease and helping me process life while adjusting to life-long treatment.

The mentorship relationship I have had with Abigail Johnston has been such a gift. She is both mentor and friend, and sometimes, even a mentee. She was the first person I connected with after learning of my stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis in 2018. Since then, we’ve stayed connected, never more than a phone call or text away from one another. We’ve processed every piece of MBC, including the physical and emotional aspects, as well as the day-to-day aspects, and even the things to be mindful of in the future.

Connecting with others

Below are some key areas Abigail and I have connected over, and areas that might be helpful to consider for others who are looking for an MBC mentor/mentee relationship.

Age

What is it like to live with MBC in our 30s? 40s? 50s? 60s and beyond? The relationship Abigail and I have is beneficial because we are both in our 40s, in similar life seasons. We both have moved on from demanding careers to now, primarily caring for ourselves. We both have children to care for as well as aging parents. We both have many significant relationships that are all impacted by MBC. Because of these similarities and our similar life stage, we are able to discuss matters that impact us both, related to age.

Although individuals in mentor relationships do not have to be similarly aged, it has been incredibly helpful to have a mentor that is in a similar stage of life. This keeps things real and relevant.

Parenting

Living with MBC while raising children presents its own unique challenges. Abigail and I talk frequently about what it’s like to parent while also caring for ourselves. I remember some of my first questions to Abigail: How do you talk to you kids about MBC? What do they know? What is too much information…or not enough information? How do you manage pain when your kids need you to be Mom? These questions continue to shift and change, but we keep asking each other. Abigail’s kids are in elementary school, and my kids are teenagers, but supporting each other through different parenting stages has been beneficial. Sharing tips like conversation points or ideas for intentional memory making has been a key part of our mentor/mentee relationship related to parenting.

Subtypes

When we first met, Abigail and I discussed our breast cancer subtype and metastasis sites. We were both diagnosed with hormone-positive breast cancer and bone-only mets. In fact, we were on the same treatment when we first meet. Since then, we have both had progression, changed treatments, developed different somatic tumor mutations, and changed treatments again. Navigating these details with a mentor has been so helpful. As Abigail’s treatment regimen changed first, she discussed ways to process difficult news with family and loved ones. And when my treatment regimen changed the first time, she helped me navigate the unknown and we researched second and third-line treatment options.

A common question among those in the MBC community is: What treatment are you on? And a follow-up: What will be your next treatment line? Knowing that the answers to these questions will change with disease progression, it can be beneficial to walk with a mentor.

Spirituality

Abigail and I share a similar spiritual background. This has been helpful as we navigate the disease that most assuredly impacts body, mind, and spirit. Although differences can arise, similarities draw us close as we support one another.

When connecting with a mentor, it is important to offer respect for one another’s spiritual views and background. Whether deeply spiritual or not spiritual at all, each person in the mentor/mentee relationship will have their own perspective. Respecting differences is key.

Diversity

There is much diversity in the MBC community. Each metster is living a unique story, with unique diagnosis details, treatment lines, and individualized physical and emotional needs. Abigail and I have naturally supported each other in our areas of diversity.

  • She’s married; I am not.
  • She lives with extended family; I do not.
  • She’s a lawyer; I am a professor.
  • She’s four years in on her MBC diagnosis; I am two years in.
  • She’s receiving care at a major cancer center; I am receiving care through a local hospital.

Diversity in mentorship relationships can be a great thing. It allows for each participant to view MBC life through another’s lens. No two MBC stories are the same, but we are all in this together.

Advocacy

Abigail has used her voice to do great advocacy work within the MBC community. She volunteers with multiple non-profit organizations, hosts and co-hosts webinars and seminars, leads groups online, and has a strong presence in multiple Facebook MBC communities. She has encouraged me to also step into the advocacy world, and I am grateful for her mentorship in this realm as well. Abigail has afforded me opportunities to share my story - both in written form and on podcasts - opportunities to lead other MBC sisters in gentle yoga sessions, and opportunities to speak up and speak out about MBC. Through mentorship, she has also taught me how to mentor others who will come behind me with MBC.

Mentorship

Mentorship is not just about talking about MBC, treatment options, or new research findings; it’s about walking together. I am grateful to walk alongside Abigail and grateful she is walking alongside me!

Check out the first article in this series talking about mentoring.

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