Being There for a Loved One With Breast Cancer

Even small gestures can be meaningful to someone with cancer

Supporting a loved one with breast cancer may be something you feel simultaneously eager to do and confused about how to begin. Patients' days are often consumed with seeing doctors, receiving treatments, and dealing with side effects. They may have a hard time keeping up with routine responsibilities or feel emotionally burdened by the impact of their disease. What this means is that being there for a loved one with breast cancer can take many forms—and there's no doubt that the help you provide will be needed.

Of course, every person is different. It can help to trust what you know of a person's personality or lifestyle, but remember that breast cancer can change things. A person who might not normally seek out a shoulder to lean on may need just that. If it's not clear how you can ease the burden, it's always worth asking if ideas like the following might help.

mom and daughter hugging

Take Over Tasks

Depending on her age and situation, your loved one may need assistance with everyday duties that, while typically simple, may become difficult or virtually impossible when going through treatment.

Rather than ask her what you can do to help—which puts the ball in her court—take the initiative and try to nail down her specific needs.

Suggest that you help her review what she typically does in a week and how these activities can be handled if she doesn’t feel well enough to do them.

Once you've got a sense of what the next few weeks or months will look like, you can start planning. Some concrete ways to help:

  • Organize friends, neighbors, and co-workers to help with tasks on a regular, weekly basis.
  • Cook her nutritious meals, using ingredients that will keep her as healthy as possible as she goes through treatment.
  • Do basic chores for her, such as cleaning her house or caring for pets.
  • Help with "kid coverage," if applicable: Take her kids to school or other activities, or offer to babysit them so she can get some quiet rest time.

Drive Her to Appointments

Simply being available to drop off and pick up your friend can be a saving grace. If she's open to it, you can also consider accompanying her in the appointment itself so you can be a second set of ears when doctors explain details about her condition and care; the amount of information can be overwhelming, so taking notes for her may be appreciated.

You can also help by making a calendar to keep track of upcoming appointments and treatment schedules.

Going to chemotherapy with her is another great suggestion; treatments can take several hours, and having company makes them go a lot faster.

Be There—and Listen

As critical as practical assistance is, what is always needed (and often most welcomed) are friends and family to be there through the fear and loneliness of breast cancer.

If you live or work close by, invite your friend to lunch to talk about what's on her mind (or to offer a welcome distraction, if that's what she needs). If she isn’t feeling well, sit with her at home to have a more intimate heart-to-heart.

If distance, work, or life commitments don’t allow for being there in person, regular phone calls or video phone sessions from someone who can listen, not be judgmental, and provide comfort and encouragement can make all the difference to someone in treatment.

Lift Her Spirits

Planning some fun activities to help her get away from all things cancer can introduce some lightness and laughter into her day. Consider what she might have energy for before deciding on something.

For example, if she's up for it, offer to take her to a movie, comedy show, or music festival. If she's feeling troubled by her appearance during treatment, consider treating her to a mani/pedi or taking her shopping for some new clothes. When fatigue or other symptoms make getting out of the house too hard, try playing a board game or marathon watching her favorite TV show.

Finding ways to remind her how much she is loved can also bolster her in tough times. Rally her army of supporters to help raise money for expenses or arrange a breast cancer charity walk in her honor.

Funny cards and texts, sent weekly, can be a real spirit booster as well. Gifts that can be used during treatment, such as a cozy blanket, a cute hat, or a good novel, may be appreciated, too.

When You're the Caregiver

If you are a primary caregiver for a friend or family member, you will have to devote a lot of time and energy to taking care of this person. It's easy to forget about your own needs and get burned out, which isn't good for either of you. Be sure to take breaks, engage in self-care, and seek respite care.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Six tips for caregivers from people living with metastatic breast cancer.

  2. American Cancer Society. How to be a friend to someone with cancer.

  3. Cancer Care. Caregiving tips: Supporting your spouse or partner with breast cancer.

By Jean Campbell, MS
Jean Campbell, MS, is a breast cancer survivor and advocate, and the founding director of the American Cancer Society Patient Navigator Program.