Being There for a Loved One With Breast Cancer

Even Small Gestures Can Be Meaningful to Someone With Cancer

mom and daughter hugging
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When a friend or family member is diagnosed with breast cancer, their days often become consumed with seeing doctors, receiving treatments, and dealing with side effects. As a result, they may have a hard time keeping up with routine responsibilities; the emotional impact of cancer can also be significant.

Most likely, your loved one will need all the support she can get. Here's what you can do to ease the burden:

Take Over Tasks

Depending on her age and situation, your loved one may need assistance with childcare, shopping, cooking, and transportation.

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. You can also make a calendar to keep track of upcoming appointments and treatment schedules. 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
  • Accompany her to appointments. You can offer to drive your friend there, and be a second set of ears when doctors explain details about treatment and other aspects of her care, as the amount of information can be overwhelming. Accompanying her to chemotherapy is another nice way to be there for her; treatments can take several hours and having company makes them go a lot faster.
  • Clean your friend’s home or tend to her garden
  • Take her children to school or afterschool activities
  • Care for any pets
  • Pick up prescriptions
  • Buy groceries
  • Drive visiting family or friends to and from the airport or hotel

Provide Emotional Support

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

If you live or work close by, invite your friend to lunch, a movie, or any fun activity that is a getaway from all things cancer. If she isn’t feeling well, keep her company at home and watch a movie, play a board game, or do anything she enjoys and has the energy to do.

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

Funny cards and texts, sent weekly, are a real spirit booster. Gifts that can be used during treatment, such as a cozy blanket, a cute hat, or a juicy novel are always welcome, 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.

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