Being There for a Loved One With Breast Cancer

Whether family or friend, be a supportive breast cancer buddy

mom and daughter hugging
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When a friend or family member is diagnosed with breast cancer, you may not be sure of what to say or how to help. But, in reaching out, you send the message that every breast cancer patient needs to hear—that you will be there for her. 

A woman newly diagnosed with breast cancer needs all the support she can get. In addition to coping with the fears inherent in having a potentially life-threatening illness, she worries about how her breast cancer will affect her family, her work situation, her finances, and much more.

She also worries about how the changes in her body image will affect how she feels about herself and/or how her partner will view her.

Support from family and friends can make all the difference in her quality of life during treatment. To put it simply, managing fears and coping with treatment side effects are so much easier with support.

Day-to-Day Support

Going for treatments, seeings doctor, and dealing with treatment side effects may make it difficult to take care of one's daily responsibilities. Depending on age and situation, your loved one may need assistance with her child care, shopping, cooking, and transportation.

At first, your friend or family member may have no idea what kind of help she will need. Here is your first opportunity to be there for her. Suggest that you help her review what she does in a week and how these activities can be handled if she doesn’t feel well enough to do them.

She needs someone to be a support, especially as she meets with members of her treatment team—particularly someone who can take notes because she may be too anxious to do so. And if you have the time and are free for a treatment day, chemotherapy hours can be long and company makes them go a lot faster.

Also, your loved one needs someone to be with her when she shops for clothes and other items she will need during treatment. Buying a wig is always easier when a friend can suggest what looks good.

Emotional Support

As critical as practical assistance is, what is always needed and most welcomed are friends and family to be there through the fear and the loneliness of breast cancer. There’s a lot of down time during treatment.

If distance, work, or life commitments don’t allow for being there in person, regular phone calls and Skype visits—from someone who can listen, not be judgmental, and provide comfort and encouragement—can make all the difference for someone in treatment.

I was fortunate to have such a person during my first breast cancer experience. My friend, Joanne, called me every day for four months, from diagnosis to completing active treatment. If I felt like talking, she would listen as long as I needed to talk. If I didn’t feel like talking, she’d say, “Okay, I’ll call you tomorrow.”

And there are so many ways to be there long distance. Funny cards and texts, sent weekly, are a real spirit booster. Gifts that can be used during treatment, such as a book, are always welcome, too.

If you live or work close, invite your friend to lunch, a movie, or any fun activity that is a getaway from all things cancer. If she isn’t feeling well, keep her company at home, whether watching a movie, playing a board game, or doing anything she has the energy to do. Being there through a friend’s breast cancer isn’t easy, but being there makes what she is going through easier.

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