5 Ways to Support a Loved One Diagnosed with Breast Cancer
When a loved one receives a life-changing breast cancer diagnosis we want to help, but where do we start? Helping with daily tasks, offering emotional support and continuing to invite your loved one to activities they enjoyed before the diagnosis can help.
Here are five practical tips to help a loved one battling breast cancer:
- Offer Specific Help: It's hard for people to ask for help, and they may not know what they need, Hendricks says. "They've been self-sufficient, but now, all of the sudden, they have cancer that can feel like it takes up a lot of room and every resource they have."
Instead of open-ended statements such as, "Let me know what I can do to help," offer specific assistance:
- Set up meals (purchase a gift card for a restaurant or delivery, or start a meal train)
- Clean the house
- Cut the grass/weed
- Ask about financial concerns to see where others may be able to help
- Drive them to appointments
- Pick up kids from school or activities
- Pick up groceries
- Help with laundry
2. Include Them in Activities: Your loved one will still want to participate in many of the same activities they did before the diagnosis when they’re feeling up to it.
"Some days, they might want to go out and not be a cancer patient and not talk about cancer," Hendricks says.
Keep them in the loop on the activities you did together before the diagnosis. And look for new activities that are comfortable for them throughout their treatment. At times that may look like playing card games or other quiet activities you can do together in the comfort of their home.
Helping a loved one incorporate movement into their day is also a good idea. “From a health care perspective, getting up and moving, including walking is so important,” says Hendricks. “It helps to prevent treatment and postsurgical complications,” continues Hendricks. Let your loved one set the pace but don’t be afraid to set up time to get together.
3. Be Honest and Compassionate: Often people get nervous because they don't know what to say, and that’s okay to acknowledge with your loved one.
In “Everything Happens for a Reason”author Kate Bowler talks about how to be supportive when you don’t know what to say to a loved one with a serious health diagnosis. She advises not to be afraid to say things like, “This is hard,” instead of things like “God only gives you what you can handle” or “It could be worse.”
"It’s okay to acknowledge that this absolutely stinks,” emphasizes Hendricks. “It’s okay to let them know you’re not sure what to say but that you care for them and are there for them. Being a good listener and leaving space for them to share their honest feelings is also so important.”
4. Create a Care Package: A care package can offer practical help and let your loved one know you are thinking of them. 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.
- Books or magazines
- Gift card to their favorite coffee shop or restaurant
When it comes to the plethora of pink breast cancer items available, Hendricks says to feel your loved one out. Some women embrace pink and some don't want any part of it.
5. Offer to Go to Appointments: Your loved one may need transportation to and from appointments and may want a friend to accompany them. By stepping in, you'll also be giving their other caregivers a break.
“I recommend patients bring a family member or loved one to appointments to be a second set of ears. There’s so much information presented and that can be hard for one person to retain. Feel free to bring a notebook and write down questions to be asked,” adds Hendricks.
Resources for Breast Cancer Patients and Their Support Team:
This group is open to breast cancer survivors under age 50 their families, and friends to meet their unique needs. The goal is to assist patients dealing with diagnosis, treatment, body image, intimacy, sexuality and breast cancer treatment. This group meets virtually via Zoom and at Sentara Brock Cancer Center in Norfolk.
This list is intended for current patients and survivors of breast cancer throughout Hampton Roads. Members of the Online Support Group may also be participants in our Breast Cancer Support Group meetings at Sentara facilities, but this is not a requirement. We invite you to use this forum as a "comfort zone" for communicating with fellow survivors.
You may find yourself in need of someone to talk to as you care for a loved one with breast cancer. There are support groups not only for patients but also for support care team members.