Building My Support Network

Also known as how I'm handling cancer, chemo, motherhood, marriage, and a move—all at once.

by Sabrina Skiles Patient Advocate

Community. Find a community, they say. Find someone who gets you—a support network that can help when you need it the most. Boy are they right! Community is what has saved me during this breast cancer journey.

My community starts with my husband Chris, and my kids. Never has in sickness and in health meant more. It’s no lie marriage is hard. Throw in a cancer diagnosis and it can get tough. But man oh man, are the good times great. I wouldn’t be where I am at in my breast cancer journey—or in life—if the good didn’t outweigh the bad. Time after time, the love from my husband and smiles of my children (and yes, some drugs, which I’m no longer on) pulled me out of that dark place cancer can take you. No matter what you think about your spouse not being able to understand, your partner will be there for you in so many other ways, giving you that shoulder to cry on when you need it the most. And let’s be honest, that shoulder is sometimes all you need.

Community through marriage? Check.

Did I mention motherhood is hard, too? Despite having people in my life to support me, it’s been a struggle to realize that I can’t do everything by myself. But as much as I try, I just can’t. I need help—and if that was true before, it was definitely true after I was diagnosed with cancer. And honestly, that has been the hardest thing for me. But what helped the most was knowing I was part of this #momlife community that had words of advice, especially at 3 a.m. You other moms know what I’m talking about. When all you want is a judgement-free zone and have others cheer you on when you ask your four-year-old to go check on your two-year-old; or you serve cheerios for dinner so you can enjoy a hot bath and glass of wine without interruption. You know you’re not alone. And that’s all you need.

Community through motherhood? Check.

But finding a support network for cancer and chemo? Um. That was another story. I’m the only one dealing with this, right? So how can other people help me? No lie—that’s exactly how I felt about my cancer diagnosis. Then again, I had little to lose. So after I pulled myself off the floor and dried my tears, I reached out to the community I kept hearing was out there.

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Sabrina (left), her twin sister, and their kids. / Courtesy of the author

Learning to Accept Help

If I’m being honest, it’s been very hard for me to ask for help ever since my parents passed away. But when I reached out to the breast cancer community, they showed up in full force. Without even knowing me. Complete strangers, from states and countries far away, filled my phone, Facebook page and Instagram direct messages with camaraderie. That’s what cancer does. You’re now a part of a club that you didn’t want to be invited to. But sister, when you get there, you’ll be lifted up in ways you never thought were possible.

Joining the breast cancer community gave me a feeling of control when so many things about the disease left me feeling like I had none. That was important for me—to find ways to feel in control. Like never missing my son’s swim lessons during chemo (#truestory) and having Taco Tuesday with the family after chemo, even though my appetite wasn’t there. And going to Meet the Teacher’s night the same day I had my lumpectomy. Yes, some people thought I was crazy. But I was taking back control. I wanted to decide what I could and couldn’t do. Not cancer. It felt empowering.

But on the days that found me tired as a dog, I needed help in ways I’d never had to ask for before, and that was hard. My family and friends—my community—showed up in ways I couldn’t even imagine. Tears of joy are streaming down my face as I write these words, that help was so powerful. These are some ways my support network gave me strength:

That’s What Friends Are For

At the start of my chemo journey, my twin sister and her four-year-old daughter moved in with me at our Houston home to help with literally everything while my husband was in Denver for his new job. (He would fly back every other week to be with me on my hardest days.) My sister talked with my kids about my cancer journey in a language they understood, something that was hard for me. She helped me buy my first wig online. I’m forever indebted.

My in-laws showed up big time, starting a T-shirt fundraising campaign to help with medical bills. On each shirt was the slogan: “Together We Are Stronger Than Cancer #TeamSabrina.” On days I needed rest, they took the boys without hesitation. We stayed at their house when the movers were packing up our Houston home. Thank you will never be enough.

Then there’s Alicia, our family friend—a title which doesn’t really do her justice. She is like a second mother to me as she’s known me and my sister from the moment we came into this world over 35 years ago. She kept me company during my third chemo treatment. But she didn’t stop there. She drove me home when the chemo drugs were too much for me and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. She made tacos for me, my sister, and the kids. She even brought the kids ice cream. That’s family.

Sabrina Skiles and her friend Alicia
Sabrina (left) and family friend Alicia. / Courtesy of the author

During my first week of chemo, my best friend, Loni, who lives in Denver, flew in and stayed with me. She helped with medications, keeping the kids entertained, preparing meals, watching silly romantic comedies with me, and everything in between. She lined up people to help us move, which was huge because I didn’t think we were going to find anyone.

My sorority sister and good friend, Fran, started a meal train for us. Crazy story: I had literally just set up a meal train for her after her ovarian cancer diagnosis four months prior. Man, her help was hard to accept, but it came full circle and I was OK with that. Plus, those home-cooked meals were a saving grace when I didn’t have the energy to cook for my family.

I had a friend, Lindsey, text me when she was going on her grocery run to ask what I needed. Not if I needed anything, but what. I remember reading that text at 5:30 p.m., the witching hour for parents with young kids, and just crying. Chris was out of town and I was by myself with the kids and feeling a little overwhelmed. I needed oranges, yogurt, and shredded cheese for the boys and she brought me everything two hours later. Pro tip: If you’re supporting a friend through cancer, don’t ask if you can help. Just say, I’ll be coming by and will leave what you need at your front door. Seriously, read that again.

I could go on and on. But these people showed up. They showed up for me. They showed up for my family, out of the kindness of their heart. And it meant more than they will ever know.

Cancer also brought this old saying to light for me: Rely on the kindness of strangers. When we moved to Colorado, we lost our family and the huge support network we had in Houston. Loni connected me with our sorority alumnae group in my new city, and they immediately signed up to bring us meals and help us move. Accepting help from strangers isn’t something I would have done, pre-cancer. But going through a traumatic health experience makes you realize that support can come in so many different forms. And yes, it’s OK to ask for help and the kindness of strangers really is a sweet thing.

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Courtesy of the author

Building Your Network

For those newly diagnosed and looking for community, these are groups that have helped me thus far and I hope you find a way to let them into your heart:

The Breasties is a non-profit dedicated to empowering women affected by breast and reproductive cancers by igniting strength and positivity through free retreats, wellness activities, and an inclusive online community. Make sure to check out their hyper-local groups and connect with them on Instagram as well.

Young Survival Coalition (YSC) addresses the unique needs of women with breast cancer, amplifying their voice and improving the quality of life for young adults (under the age of 45) affected by the disease.

National Breast Cancer Foundation provides early detection screenings, including mammograms, breast health education, and a supportive community.

They say you really find out who your friends are when you have a baby, move, or get sick. Well, having gone through all three of these major life milestones, I believe it. And I know how lucky I am to have the support that showed up for my family during one of the darkest times in our lives.

So keep swimming, friends. The journey may be hard right now—the waters may get rough and choppy and you may feel like you’re drowning—but there’s a life raft out there, waiting for you to grab it. Your people will show up and when they do, it’s OK to let them carry you for a while.

cards of encouragement from my community-sabrina-skiles
Courtesy of the author
Sabrina Skiles
Meet Our Writer
Sabrina Skiles

Sabrina Skiles is a lifestyle and psoriasis blogger, who was also diagnosed with breast cancer just two days after her 35th birthday. She created her blog, Homegrown Houston as a lifestyle resource for millennial women and those living with chronic conditions. She shares daily inspiration from health and wellness, motherhood and marriage to managing a chronic disease while living a stylish life. Sabrina is also a volunteer mentor, coach and social ambassador for the National Psoriasis Foundation. You can find her sharing #chemolife and psoriasis tips while living a stylish life on Instagram @sabrinaskiles.