When a friend or family member is diagnosed with breast cancer we are often paralysed. We want to be helpful and caring, but how do we do that when we don’t understand what they are going through? Here are some suggestions how to support someone with breast cancer.
The very best thing you can do for your friend is to lend an ear and (quite probably) a shoulder to cry on. By simply being on the end of the phone anytime that it’s needed, you can be a great help and support.
You don’t need to offer any advice or to try to fix things, just listen as she vents and asks impossible rhetorical questions.
Sometimes this can be really hard on you too, as often rationality and thinking about others can sometimes go out the door with a breast cancer diagnosis. But if you can be non-judgemental, your friend will appreciate this in the end.
Go to Appointments
After our breast cancer diagnosis we are thrown into a whirlwind or appointments. Doctors, scans, more doctors – often it feels never ending.
There is so much information thrown at us in the early stages of our diagnosis that having an extra pair of ears with us can be invaluable to remind us later what was said. As a companion, you can offer to take notes, or simply be there to hold her hand.
Appointments can be long and tedious, with lots of waiting around, so it’s often nice to be there to help pass the time and stop the worry and fear becoming overwhelming.
If you can’t be there at the actual appointment, even offering to drive can be a great support. That time can be used to chat and listen to your friend to help keep them calm.
Help Organise Appointments
All the appointments can be difficult to keep track of, especially when your friend is not 100% focused on her calendar. You can help by understanding what she needs to be doing, and collating all the information on to one main calendar in her house.
You could also help with a shared online calendar if that is a better option.
Help With Kids
If your friend has kids, then they will be her first concern. She will be worried about all the things they are missing out on and what she can’t do. You can step in and help with some of these things so she doesn’t feel like the kids are missing out (as much).
Offer to take them to school or to their sports and activities. Video what you can to show Mum. Take them to birthday parties or too the park or playground. Perhaps take your friend along too but assure her you are there to help when she can’t.
Help to Keep Others Informed
You will need to talk to your friend about this one before you go ahead, but perhaps she would like help with keeping other people informed of how she is going. Some people find it difficult to keep repeating the same information over and over, so you might be able to relieve some of that.
Do ensure you know who you can talk to and some people like to keep it to a small group of close family and friends, others don’t mind who knows.
Visit When you Can
Don’t fee like you have to stay away. You friend is probably feeling quite isolated and would like to have you call in for a chat and a cup of tea (or coffee!).
If she is having chemotherapy she will likely not be going out much because of her diminished immunity, especially in these Covid times, and she would love the company.
Do message first though, rather than just turn up on her doorstep, to be sure she is okay with visitors and not resting or busy.
Make Meals for the Freezer
While I was recovering from my surgeries, basic cooking was possible, but anything with too much chopping or stirring started to become difficult. Your friend will always appreciate a meal or two that can go in the freezer and simply be reheated when required.
Do check with your friend first for suggestions for what to cook, because there may be particular things she is trying to avoid or changes she has made to her diet because of the cancer.
If she is doing chemo, then it is likely her sense of taste has been affected too, and some things can become particularly unpalatable.
If she has a family, she may prefer meals that her kids would like so that she can take care of them more easily.
Offer to Help with Housework
An offer to help with some of the housework is always welcome support for breast cancer patients. It could be as simple as unloading the dishwasher when you visit, or putting on a load of laundry.
You could take it further and offer to do some of the bigger chores, like vacuuming or cleaning the shower, or you could arrange for a cleaner to come in regularly and help out.
Go out for a Coffee Date
It’s one thing to pop in for a coffee, but it’s a whole other thing to take your friend out. It could be just the thing they need to feel a little more normal if they have spent a lot of time inside their own home – especially during Covid or if their appearance has dramatically changed.
At first, if they are feeling tentative, make it a short break somewhere local, familiar and friendly. Be aware they may feel uncomfortable or tire quickly, depending on which stage of treatment they are at.
Do the Grocery Shopping
If you are at the supermarket yourself or about to stop by, check if there is anything you can pick up and drop off to your friend. If she is not going out much, even going to the shops for mil can seem like a huge task.
It doesn’t have to be the whole huge weekly shop (although you can offer to help with that too, perhaps assisting when ordering online) but just a few things can be a huge help and support, especially if there are kids involved.
Find More Services and Support
Sometimes, just knowing that more support is needed can be overwhelming for your friend. She knows she needs help, but doesn’t know where to start.
You can help by doing some research for her. Look for services that may be able to offer support, both financially and in other ways. There are many things out there for breast cancer patients, but finding out about them can be a challenge, particularly when you are right in the thick of it.
With all these tips, you can be assured you will be offering valuable support to your friend with breast cancer. If all else fails, simply ask what she needs – it’s likely very simple.
Want to read more of my story? Here are some of the key posts
- Lumpectomy and Finally the Results
- My Bilateral Mastectomy with Tissue Expanders
- Exchange Surgery – From Expanders to Implants
Here are some other posts that will help you navigate through your breast cancer experience
- Coping with Breast Cancer
- Easy Journalling Through Breast Cancer
- Plant-Based: Eating for Breast Cancer
Have you joined a breast cancer support group on Facebook but been completely overwhelmed by some of the posts? It’s fantastic that these groups are an open forum and all sorts of questions, worries and issues are addressed, but sometimes they can be too much. In fact sometimes they can be downright scary.
If you would still like to join a support group on Facebook but not be faced with some of the scarier aspects when you don’t want to see them, come and join Positive Breast Cancer Stories. Here we share positive stories, celebrate milestones and encourage each other rather than deal with the technical information >>
Click here to join now
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