A large gold cup pours water into a smaller cup. Mentorship, mentor, mentee, giving

Mentoring, Part IV

Amanda asks Abigail to think about mentor/mentee relationships she has held in the MBC world and answer the following questions. Be sure to check out the other articles in this series, Looking at Mentoring, Part I, Amanda and Abigail's mentorship relationship, Part II, and Amanda's experience with mentorship for MBC, Part III.

Establishing MBC mentorship

Q: How do you get established with MBC mentees? Do you seek out a number of mentees or do they seek you out?

A: I've experienced both in that I've signed up to be a mentor with several organizations in a more formal way to seek connections with others, I often get people contacting me directly to ask questions or to serve as a mentor, and as the administrator for several Facebook groups, I also mentor the members generally and sometimes more specifically when that is needed. Given that I've mentored in a professional capacity in the past, I do find that there are differences in the relationships depending on how the connection is made. Formal connections in this context don't always move into a more bilateral relationship whereas informal connections do tend to transition more often. For me, mentoring is often simply living my life and modeling how to do so well.

Boundaries & protecting your mental health

How do you balance your service as a mentor with the need to care for yourself and your family?

A: At the beginning, I tend to set pretty rigid boundaries about timing and method of contact. As I often did while working, I typically ask that a mentee text me to set up a time to chat rather than just calling out of the blue. This allows me to plan out my days as much as possible. As of 2021, I've been living with MBC for four (4) years and my energy is definitely not what it was before cancer, plus I'm an introvert, so I find that I need to limit the number and intensity of contacts with people outside my family in any given day. I also try to set aside time to respond via text or email or Facebook messenger and that usually is when I'm sitting alone in the car pick up line; I'll schedule calls then too because it's private, I have to sit there anyway and there's a natural endpoint when my kiddos get in the car.

I do try to note when scans are coming or there are important or triggering days or events to ensure that I set aside time and energy for that person. Frankly, I do this with friends as well. We all live in each other's pockets a little around the times when we know someone might be getting news because we all know how hard the scanxiety and waiting for results can be. As the relationship either shifts to the mentee not needing as much input or to a more bilateral relationship, I tend to relax my more rigid boundaries. When there is a give and take and I can simply say, now is not a good time, I'm more relaxed and can communicate about my needs and energy.

Overextending yourself as a mentor

You have a lot of knowledge to provide to mentees. How do you do this without overextending yourself and sharing the same things over and over, with numerous individuals? Can you “scale” your mentorship? Do you carve out seasons in life that involve no mentorship?

A: Every mentor/mentee relationship is so very different. From the beginning, I try to let the mentee tell me what they need and I modify much of what I share with them based on that. For instance, some people living with MBC are willing to hear that it is a terminal diagnosis and face that fact, others are more comfortable with incurable. I ask a lot of questions and try very hard not to overwhelm a mentee with information all at once - I don't always succeed in this, but I do try.

In thinking about what I have to give as a mentor, I believe that the most important piece is just to bear witness, to hold a safe space for the other person to share, to vent, to talk about those things that they otherwise can't. So many of us have family members who aren't ready to hear all of the dark thoughts that come with a terminal diagnosis. We are in the trenches together and just showing up is key. As a mentor, I do my best to be available for this more than anything else.

The second thing that I think is key is providing the mentees with other places to get support. Having been involved with a variety of support groups, especially on Facebook, I find that connecting others (not just mentees) to good groups helps to ensure that even if I'm not immediately available, they can reach out for support from other people living with MBC. Additionally, suggesting which organizations to follow, support, etc., I think is another opportunity to guide someone new to MBC.

By ensuring that I'm not the only one providing support, if there are times that I can't give as much as I'd like, the mentee isn't left hanging.

Drawing on my recent experience with significant jaw pain related to BIONJ and jaw surgery and I had to withdraw from social media and many of the people I interact with daily, I did my best to let everyone know that I was going to have to take a step back for a bit and made sure they had other places to get support. I'm in the process of reconnecting to each of them and making sure that they are ok, that they don't need something specific, and that I can work to meet those needs now that I'm feeling better. More than any other group of people, I find that those in the MBC community extend grace differently.

Advice for mentors & mentees

What advice do you have for MBC mentors?

A: Mentoring is an amazing role where you give as much as you receive; at the same time, when you are seeking to mentor, you need to ensure that your cup is full. It may sound cliche, but it is true that you can't pour from an empty cup. If you are mentoring, be sure you are mentored as well. I also recommend that you seek out organizations that truly train you to mentor and provide support rather than mentoring on your own. An organization that seeks to support both mentors and mentees through the process means that you always have a backup.

What advice do you have for MBC mentees?

A: Seek out a mentor early and often. Learning from others who have walked your path themselves is so very important. I have learned so much more from ladies farther along the MBC path than any of my doctors or medical professionals. We tell each other the "hacks" that keep our quality of life viable. Again, I would recommend that you seek out an organization that connects you to a mentor who is carefully matched to you across a variety of modalities is really important.

And I'm sure that now the question you have is, what organizations do this and do it well? Stay tuned for Part V!!

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