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Barrett: Fighting breast cancer easier with support of family, friends

In June 2011, my mom, Lilly, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Radiation and chemotherapy were a nightmare, but my mom said the hardest part of the process was the task of breaking the news to my twin brother and me. We had always seen her as strong and in control. We relied on her, and she had suddenly become limited in performing basic duties.

My brother and I took over grocery shopping, cleaning and doing the dishes. I’ll admit that I’ve always been directionally challenged, but after getting lost in the grocery store, I had to call my friend’s mom to ask in what aisle the peanut butter was located. Independence became a survival tool.

The support from family and friends during my mom’s treatment and recovery was incredible. We were blessed when friends and church members set up an online care calendar, which guaranteed my family at least three homemade meals a week. If it were up to my dad, we would have been eating rotisserie chicken from Dominick’s every night because he can’t tell the difference between a saucepan and a spatula.

I’ve found the topic of cancer makes some people uncomfortable. However, it hurt me when others ignored the subject. This made it seem as if they did not care about my mom or family.

If you know someone sick or with a sick family member, do not be afraid to bring up the subject. Ask them how they are and ask if there is anything you can do to help. Even if they decline the help, you have done your part. You have become a part of their support system.

“No matter how private you may be, accept help,” my mom said to me last week when we reflected on her experience. “You will find that the generosity of others is overwhelming.”

My mom has fought through her illness by surrounding herself with family and friends. She also uses the LivingWell Cancer Resource Center in Geneva, which provides free counseling, exercise programs, support groups and education for anyone touched by cancer.

My mom believes a positive outlook is necessary.

“Along with faith, family and friends, optimism is a must throughout your treatment and recovery,” she said.

On the days during her treatment when she felt the worst, she would remind herself that the feeling was temporary.

There is a positive way to approach every experience. My mom finally got the thick, curly hair that she has always wanted. She is back to living a healthy, active life and recently has gone back to school to complete a certification course.

Next year, my twin brother and I will leave for college, and my family will be separated for the first time. I am not worried about my mom. She has an incredible support system made up of her wonderful husband, family, friends and neighbors.

We will all be just fine. 

• Nellie Barrett is a senior at Geneva High School and an intern at the Kane County Chronicle. She can be reached at

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