6 ways to help a friend with breast cancer
If a friend or loved one has received a life-changing breast cancer diagnosis, chances are you're eager to do anything you can to help her with this stressful and upsetting new chapter in her life.
But where do you start? Some newly diagnosed patients may not know, either, and could use your guidance, says Deana L. Henry, an oncology patient navigator at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center.
"When cancer takes an uninvited seat in your living room, you'll likely need your friends and loved ones more and differently than before," Henry says.
Helping with everyday tasks, offering emotional support and continuing to include your friend in activities she enjoyed before her diagnosis can significantly impact and improve her well-being.
Here are six practical tips to help a friend battling breast cancer:
1.) Beware of the Internet: Remind your friend to rely on sound medical advice, rather than focus on the range of complications, side effects and alarming personal accounts on the Internet.
Some reliable sites include:
- American Cancer Society
- Major medical institutions, such as the Mayo Clinic and Johns Hopkins Medicine
- Susan G Komen Breast Cancer Foundation
- National Cancer Institute
2.) Offer Specific Help: It's hard for people to ask for help, and they may not know what they need, Henry says.
"They've been self-sufficient, but now, all of the sudden, they have cancer at their door, and that takes up a lot of room and every resource they have," Henry says.
Instead of open-ended statements such as, "Let me know what I can do to help," offer specific assistance:
- Pick up kids from school or activities
- Set up meals
- Clean the house
- Cut the grass/weed
- Ask about financial concerns to see where others may be able to help
- Ask if they'd be interested in a GoFundMe page
- Drive them to appointments
- Pick up groceries
- Help with laundry
- Purchase a gift card to a grocery store or restaurant to help with a meal
3.) Include Her in Activities: Your friend will still want to participate in many of the same activities she did before her diagnosis.
"Some days, they want to go out and not be a cancer patient and not talk about cancer," Henry says.
So, invite your friend for a walk if she's up to it, a movie or a meal out.
4.) Know When to Be a Cheerleader and When to Be a Shoulder to Cry On: Often people get nervous because they don't know what to say, so the wrong sentiments come out.
Refrain from saying things like, 'God only gives you what you can handle,' or 'You are strong, you can handle this,' or 'It could be worse.'
"All those statements make assumptions about the person," Henry says. "Some people may find them encouraging at times, but, when you're their friend, acknowledge that this absolutely stinks and be there if she wants to talk."
Also, when you feel the need to give a pep talk, draw on past situations that that person has experienced – maybe a divorce or job loss – to illustrate your confidence that she has the skills and determination to tackle the next challenge in her cancer battle.
5.) Create a Care Package: A care package can offer practical help and let your friend know you are thinking of her. It's a great alternative if you live out of town.
Items that would be helpful for a cancer patient include:
- Pocket tissue
- Hand sanitizer
- Lip balm
- Hard candy for a dry mouth or metallic taste from medication
- Refillable water bottle
- Notebook with a pocket to keep track of appointments, documents and other information.
- Nail file and nail polish. Doctors advise many chemotherapy patients to stop getting manicures.
- Entertaining magazines
With the plethora of pink breast cancer items available, Henry says to feel your friend out. Some women embrace pink and some don't want any part of it.
6.) Offer to Go to Appointments: Your friend may need transportation to and from appointments and may want a friend to accompany her. By stepping in, you'll also be giving her caregiver a break. Try not to be pushy, but offer to go with her if she'd like.
Your friend will certainly appreciate your support on her breast cancer journey.