Being There For a Friend with Breast Cancer

When a friend 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, and her finances.

She also worries about how the changes in her body image will affect how she feels about herself, and how her spouse or significant other will view her.

Support from family and friends can make all the difference in a woman’s quality of life during treatment. Managing fears and coping with treatment side effects are so much easier with support.

Going for treatments, doctor visits, and side effects related to treatment may make it difficult to take care of her daily responsibilities. Depending on her age and situation, she may need assistance with   child care, shopping, cooking, and transportation.

At first, she 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 so.

She needs someone to be a support as she meets with members of her treatment team; someone who can take notes because she may be too anxious to do so.

 If you have the time and are free for a treatment day, chemotherapy hours can be long ones and the company of a friend makes them go faster.

She 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 on you.

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 a friend who can listen, is not judgmental, and can share words of comfort and encouragement can make all the difference for someone in treatment.

I was fortunate to have just such a person during my first breast cancer experience. My friend, Joanne, called me every day, for 4 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.”

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.

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 watching a movie, playing a board game, or 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.

Jean Campbell is a 2x breast cancer survivor and the former founding director of the American Cancer Society New York City Patient Navigator Program in 14 public and private hospitals.She is executive director of a nonprofit organization providing research and resource information and support to women and men newly diagnosed with breast cancer.

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