When someone you love gets sick, family and friends can often struggle with what to say or how to express that they want to help. Whether you feel you have the right words or not, a strong support system can be a powerful asset for anyone fighting cancer. Showing your support is a small act with big impact. If your family member or friend is diagnosed with breast cancer, here are some ways you can help them as they navigate their medical journey.
Supporting a Loved One Who Has Breast Cancer
- Be proactive. Patients diagnosed with breast cancer often describe feeling like they have lost control. This can make them hesitant to ask for help, even if it’s greatly needed. While they may not all accept your offer, be proactive and offer to help before they need to ask. You might start by verbally expressing you are there to support them and offer something small like stopping by with dinner or walking the dog. Small, thoughtful acts of love can show that you are thinking of them and have tangible ways you can help. You can also volunteer to go to the treatments or appointments with them. Even something as seemingly simple as being there to listen can make a big difference in a patient’s life.
- Get a pad of paper, or take notes on your phone or other electronic devices. Make it a habit to write down the questions you hear your loved one worry about and be sure to bring along to the next appointment. Is s/he wondering how the holidays will work, if s/he might lose their hair, or is confused about a medical term? Big or small, writing these questions down means that your loved one doesn’t have to worry about forgetting during an appointment. Likewise, if you are able to be in the appointments with him or her, bring along your list. Write down updates from the doctor, next steps, upcoming appointments and other important pieces of information. Appointments can be emotionally draining and your loved one may leave and forget the details s/he discussed with the physician. Taking notes and keeping everything organized takes one more burden off a patient’s shoulders.
- Be the messenger. After a patient has shared a diagnosis, a lot of people will continue to check in for updates and to stay informed on treatment journey. While all of these are done out of love, sometimes a patient needs a break from cancer talk. You can offer to arrange a communication update strategy to send to those interested. This way, everyone can be updated, but you have removed the responsibility of doing the updating from your loved one.
- Remember that each day is different. Fighting cancer can be exhausting and patients often feel blue or depressed. Patients may feel encouraged one day, then tired and drained the next. Sometimes they will experience multiple mood shifts just in one day. Phillips urges supporters to be understanding and realize that patients are going through a lot of physical and emotional stress. Just like in Tip 1, being available to listen is sometimes the best way you can help.
- Find the fun in support. Support groups come in all shapes and sizes. They can be a small group of patients listening and sharing, or as big as thousands of people at breast cancer awareness walks. A support group can be a yoga practice or a meet-up for craft nights. Explore the support groups available in your community, ask your nurse navigator for suggestions.
As we continue to work toward a cure for breast cancer, don’t feel helpless to be part of the solution. And don’t ever lose sight of how small thoughtful gestures can make a big impact in the support of those you love.