Help Fight Breast Cancer as a Chemo Support Buddy

When a friend or loved one starts chemotherapy for breast cancer, you can step in to help them through the treatments and recovery. Becoming a chemo buddy—whether in person or over a long-distance—gives you a role in helping fight breast cancer.

Involve your special person in planning for her own chemotherapy support, and prioritizing the list of tasks that may come up. Here are 10 ways for you to be a great chemo buddy.


Tune In

Ethnic woman with cancer laughing with her mother in living room while drinking tea
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Actively listen when your friend receiving chemo wants to talk. You have been given two ears but only one mouth, so try to listen twice as much as you talk.

When you do talk, demonstrate how well you heard by restating what was said—this is a technique of reflective listening. Good listening skills can be used to increase understanding, clear up any confusion and reinforce your supportive relationship.

  • Validate your loved one's feelings, but don't feed their fears.
  • Be sensitive to signs of depression and anxiety.
  • If you are being supportive over long-distance, check in with your friend between treatments.

In preparation for being a chemo buddy, you wish to read a bit about "holding space" for people. Holding space means listening some without any judgement. It means focusing completely on what your friend is saying, and not thinking about what you hope to say in return; even if what you want to share is words of encouragement.


Pack Your Bags

Stack Of Books
Tony Taylor / EyeEm / Getty Images

You can help make chemo treatments go smoothly by being well prepared.

Pack up items that might be needed during an infusion appointment, including:

  • Tissues
  • Music or movies
  • Games
  • Magazines and books
  • Blanket and pillow
  • Snacks or hard candies
  • Mug
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Medication list
  • A notepad or recorder for taking notes

If there's a chance that vomiting or nausea could happen on the drive home, take along a small plastic trash can and some paper towels.

Even though you will bringing items with you to fill the time, such as magazines and books, make sure that you don't feel the need to use them. Simply follow your friends lead.

Many people look back at time spent with friends during their infusions joyfully. There are few times in life when we can focus on friends without the normal distractions of life. Certainly there will be an infusion nurse present hooking up the IV, but much of the time is simply downtime to really connect with your friend.


Do Some Hang Time

Doctor questioning patient and writing on clipboard
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The first chemo appointment is the hardest—don't miss being there for this one. You're a real hero if you attend every infusion, shot, and blood draw. That said, some people with cancer prefer going to their infusions with a different friend or family member each time as a way to stay connected. Respect your friends wishes. This is about her, not you.

Giving your time is incredibly supportive. While you're there, don't just relax: take notes, ask questions of the doctor and nurses, entertain or distract your loved one (if that's what she wants) or be quiet (if that's what she wants instead). Advocate for your friend if her anxiety escalates or allergic symptoms appear.

  • Between treatments, continue to offer support and encouragement.
  • A good chemo buddy can help by just being present at the clinic, at home, or in the workplace.
  • Hanging out helps enforce a sense of normalcy and security.

When you begin to attend infusions with your friend, mark a calendar for a year from now. While many people go back to their "normal" lives after chemotherapy is done, it takes much longer for someone who has received cancer treatment to find her new normal and sense of purpose in her life. Make a note to reach out to her at that time.


Get Out

Lake garden
Jordan Lye / Getty Images

People in cancer treatment sometimes start to feel isolated and out of touch with normal life. Counteract this by taking them for short outings, gentle walks, drives through the park, lunch, or a movie matinee.

Keep in mind that chemotherapy can make a patient more susceptible to infection, so avoid large crowds of people.

It's also important to take note of the temperature. It's not uncommon for people to say "chemotherapy broke my thermostat" or "I'm uncomfortable, but I don't know if I'm cold or I'm hot." Ask your friend what works for her, and go along with her wishes, even if you think it's beautiful outside and she claims it's freezing.


Hands-on Help

Woman holding mop and cleaning supplies
Hill Street Studios / Getty Images

Normal chores and errands still have to be done while a person is having chemotherapy treatment, but the patient may have fatigue or other side effects.

Call up the eager beavers and assign them some tasks:

  • Driving
  • House cleaning and laundry
  • Childcare
  • Meal preparation and grocery shopping
  • Mail sorting

If you are not close by and can't offer hands-on support, be a virtual supporter by using online social networking to update family and friends or raise funds.


Retail Therapy

Heap of handmade woollen beanies
Simon McGill / Getty Images

Here's a fun way to offer support from any point on the globe—shop and send your favorite breast cancer survivor some thoughtfully chosen items.

  • Consider practical things like caps and scarves (in the case of hair loss), comforting pillows, unscented lotions, and caffeine-free teas.
  • Mark your calendar and send your loved one a card every week, reminding them that you care.
  • Spring for gift certificates that provide meal delivery, house cleaning, spa services, music or movies, and reading material.
  • If you're feeling fashion-indulgent, choose breast cancer awareness bracelets and jewelry that support the cause.

Be Aware and Prepare

Concerned woman discusses her mother's health with healthcare professional
asiseeit / Getty Images

As a proactive supporter, you'll be ready for anything.

  • Keep a list of emergency phone numbers.
  • Organize all the medications.
  • Maintain good medical records.
  • Keep up an appointment calendar.
  • Know how to take a temperature.
  • Keep track of bills and receipts, and make sure you understand how to work with your health insurance provider.

Learn Up

Pretty young woman using laptop at the balcony in home office.
Images By Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

Understand the nature of the enemy and your chosen weapons. Learn about your loved one's diagnosis, treatment plan, possible side effects, and how to help them cope.

  • Get to know the members of the healthcare team and their roles.
  • Know who to ask for advice when you need help with symptoms, home care, finances, and emotional support.

Take Breaks

Friends and family celebration for cancer patient.
martinedoucet / Getty Images

Remember cancer doesn't have to be one long drag through chemo suites and hospitals.

  • Take breaks from the clinical atmosphere when your loved one's health allows.
  • Lift the patient's spirits as well as your own by planning and taking weekend trips, visits to friends, or working on a hobby that you enjoy.

Having a non-medical activity to occupy the mind can refresh your mind and spirit. You may be a great chemo buddy, but don't let chemo occupy your whole horizon.


Maintain Hope

Friends and family celebrating life of cancer patient outdoors winter
martinedoucet / Getty Images

Hope is an important part of giving support. Your attitude will affect people around you and can help others carry on the fight when days seem dark.

  • Talk with positive, upbeat people to recharge your own "hope battery."
  • Feel free to shield your loved one from those who are negative or insensitive.
  • Stay positive, celebrate victories—no matter how small—and remain focused on the goals of treatment.
  • Make plans for a future after treatment and keep moving forward.
1 Source
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. National Cancer Institute. Chemotherapy and You: Support for People With Cancer.

By Pam Stephan
Pam Stephan is a breast cancer survivor.