How to support a loved one with breast cancer
Have a close friend or family member who has been diagnosed with breast cancer? Here’s how you can help her on the road to recovery.
Educate yourself. Yes, you are going to feel a way about your loved one/friend being diagnosed, but you might also say things that you don’t even think are hurtful or offensive because you are misinformed about breast cancer. So make sure to educate yourself first before you step in and try to provide support and comfort.
Don’t compare. Everyone’s breast cancer experience is different, especially given the range of stages, aggressiveness of the cancer, family history and even access to treatment. So try not to compare this person’s diagnosis with someone in your past. It could more harm than good.
Show affection. A breast cancer diagnosis can make women feel very alone and depressed, so it’s amazing how showing them affection can make them feel appreciated and loved. Remember, a hug can really go a long way.
Send cards and notes. You may not be able to be there physically for your loved on as much as you would like, but sending cards and notes via email, can be really inspirational and empowering for women with breast cancer. The prettier the card, the better!
Don’t tell them how you feel. The last thing someone with breast cancer needs is someone telling them how to feel, especially those who haven’t gone through what they are going through. Your loved one is going to be going through a range of emotions, from fear to rage to hopelessness. And while it may make you feel uncomfortable you just have to listen and let them grieve and process the way they need without placing your opinions and expectations on them.
Call. Having a major illness can be isolating, so be sure to reach out often. Don’t know what to say? It’s OK; just let her know you love her and you’re thinking of her.
Listen. Let her feel her feelings. You probably feel powerless to help, but remember that your role isn’t to cure her cancer—it’s tobe there for her. So whether she’s hopeful, depressed, or somewhere in between, listen to whatever she wants to talk about without going into problem solving mode.
Defer. As much as you want her to heal and thrive, she wants it even more. So as long as she has great information, is following her treatment plan, and has considered all the options, know that the big decisions are hers to make, and yours to support. So accept and respect them.
Ask. Don’t just say you’re there if she needs you—she might have a hard time admitting that she needs help, or might feel bad about taking up your time. Instead, ask if you can do very specific things, such as drive her to and from treatment, keep her kids for the weekend, sit with her during treatment, manage her insurance paperwork, attend appointments and take notes, take her dog for a walk every night after dinner, be the keeper of her medical calendar or clean her place every Saturday morning.
Enlist. If you are her primary caregiver, you will need help to manage aspects of her life and keep up with your own, too. Don’t be afraid to put her friends and family to work, whether that means creating a meal schedule where they can drop off dinner and lunch, or sending around a driver signup sheet so there is always someone available to accompany her to treatment.
Connect. As much as you want to help, she can gain a lot from meeting with people who have been where she is and made it through. With her permission, sign her up for a program that will pair her with a mentor who has already survived breast cancer. MyBCTeam.com is a social network that connects women who are currently living with breast cancer.