Supporting a Friend with Breast Cancer

Most of us have had a family member, friend, or co-worker who have received a cancer diagnosis. Many of us want to support this person, but we don't know how and we are afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. This article, from ComPsych, provides some good advice on how to support someone with cancer.

The diagnosis of breast cancer is difficult news for a person to grapple with. Hearing that a friend is afflicted with the disease is also difficult. You may feel helpless in the situation, but your support will be an important part of his or her treatment.

Here are some actions you can take:
  • Listen: Your friend will likely experience a rush of emotions, including fear, confusion, anger, frustration, powerlessness, resentment and possibly loneliness. Simply being there to support and listen can make a difference and may be the best thing you can do from the start. He or she may find it very necessary to express feelings aloud in order to process the diagnosis. You do not have to have all the answers, just the time and willingness to support your friend.
  • Encourage: Remind him or her that they are loved and supported. Be a shoulder to cry on, but when the time is right, you may consider reminding your friend that many people survive diagnosis and live long, meaningful lives.
  • Offer your assistance: You might offer to do research on the disease and treatment options, but only offer advice if you are asked. Some cancer patients do not want to be bombarded with insight from a variety of people; they can feel overwhelmed with people who are trying to be helpful.
  • Keep positive: A diagnosis of breast cancer is not a death sentence. Don't be a prophet of doom, but don't dismiss your friend's concerns either. Your friend's strong feelings and fears need to be taken seriously.
  • Lend a hand: Offer to drive and/or accompany your friend to doctor appointments. You might also take notes or tape the conversations in case your friend has questions later. If your friend is willing, organize a list of questions to ask during doctor during his or her visits.
  • Be respectful: Your friend may not make decisions about treatment in ways that you would. He or she may choose radical surgery even if doctors advise against it. Alternative or homeopathic medications may also be his or her treatment of choice. Remember this is not your life or your health. Try to be supportive of your friend's choices.
  • Help with hair: Hair loss is one of the side effects of chemotherapy treatments. Offer to help look for appropriate hats, scarves or accompany your friend to find a wig.
  • Call and arrange a "feel good time" such as a massage, facial, or manicure.
  • Organize friends: Ask other friends to help with your friend's household needs. Help with the housecleaning, children and meals. This will give your friend the time he or she needs to rest without the worry of how to tend to daily chores.
  • Get support: Hospitals and other breast cancer organizations offer support groups for friends as well as cancer patients. Consider attending and getting the insight and assistance you need to be a good support to your friend.
What to Avoid:

Here are some things that you should avoid doing or saying:
  • Often times, when we are at a loss for what to say, we say silly or inappropriate things. Do not tell your friend you know how he or she feels. Even if you once had breast cancer, you do not really know how he or she feels. If the cancer was caught early, don't say that she's lucky it was not worse. She is still facing the reality of cancer regardless of its progression. It's best to say nothing and let your friend share her feelings.
  • Pose a million questions. Being concerned and asking questions may seem well intended, but your friend may not want to share personal facts, even if you know her quite well. And do not bombard her constantly with the question of how she feels. Let her express her thoughts and feelings at her own pace.
  • Put yourself in his or her shoes. You do not want to tell your friend what you would do if you were in the same situation. Every diagnosis is different as is every situation and the decisions that need to be made.
  • Compare and contrast. Do not bring up other people and compare their cancer and the ways they treated it or suffered. Your friend needs to conquer the diagnosis on his or her own without being put out there like a statistic.
  • Seek comfort from your friend. There may be times when you are upset about your friend's condition. If you have to break down, do not do it in front of him or her.

You can find more information by contacting your local hospital, searching the Internet for breast cancer support or by checking these sites:

©2019 ComPsych ® Corporation. All rights reserved. This information is for educational purposes only. It is always important to consult with the appropriate professional on financial, medical, legal, behavioral or other issues. As you read this information, it is your responsibility to make sure that the facts and ideas apply to your situation.

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