For Family and Friends

Advice for Family and Friends of Breast Cancer Patients

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According to the Cancer Research UK, more than 100 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each day in the UK. Managing fears, coping with changing family roles, having your own needs met and being uncertain about how to help are all normal and valuable concerns.

If you’re like most people, you may find yourself thinking, “If I only knew what to say, I could make things better.” But there are no magic words to help someone heal, and that often results in a feeling of helplessness—not knowing how to deal with your own feelings and at the same time provide reassurance and support. Now is the time to remember: helping your family member isn’t about being perfect. It’s about being “there”.

Although every family and every situation is different, getting advice from those who have been there can help make your own journey easier.

When Someone You Care About Has Been Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

Listen. Your friend or loved one is facing many emotions that will feel new and uncharted, but you don’t have to respond to everything she says. You don’t have to have answers or make suggestions regarding treatment. Just sit quietly and let her express all she cares to tell you. There’s no need to recount stories of other women you know who have had breast cancer—the kindest thing you can do is to be a good listener.

Understand that "feelings are facts." Is she angry? Scared? Lost? Just let her feelings be and keep in mind that every woman reacts differently to being diagnosed with breast cancer. As well-meaning as you are, don’t tell her things like – “Stop worrying,” or “There’s no good to come from being angry.” Allowing her to express her true feelings is one of the best gifts you can give her.

Express how much you care. Showing or telling someone you care is like food for the soul, especially in such difficult times. A simple hug or a gesture to say “I’m here,” is all it takes.

After her operation

Send cards. Everyone knows how good it feels to open the mailbox and find kind words from a friend or relative. Many women display their cards on their dresser to remind them that they are loved.

Offer a cooked meal. What could be more thoughtful than delivering a home-cooked dinner to someone recuperating from an operation? Frozen pizzas are nothing compared to a meal made with love.

Stay connected. Call as frequently as you think is helpful, but avoid becoming intrusive. If you’re in the neighbourhood, ask if she’s up to a visit before dropping by.

Offer to find support. Are there support groups in your community? Ask if she’d like you to find some options. You may even offer to go to the first meeting with her.

Look to others for strength. There’s no doubt you’ll have your own feelings to deal with when a friend faces breast cancer. But don’t look to her for emotional support–if she senses your worry or anxiety, it will only make matters worse.

During Treatments, Like Radiation or Chemotherapy

Don’t suggest a different treatment than she’s chosen. Your friend and her doctors will determine what’s best. While she may have doubts about her treatment, she needs to discuss those thoughts with her doctor – not with family and friends.

Keep up the emotional support. Going through treatment is difficult for many women. Unfortunately, family and friends don’t often realise their loved ones need as much support now as after initial diagnosis or operation. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Help with the practical "daily life" things. Rather than asking general questions, like “How can I help?” you might make suggestions about specific ways you can simplify her day. Can I come over and do your laundry? Do the kids need a lift to and from school? Can I look after the kids any day this week? Do you need anything from the shops? Being specific will help her feel less like an inconvenience and more like the woman she’s always been.

Recovery and Beyond

Be aware. Be patient. Even though the obvious struggles are over, your friend or family member is most likely still “fighting breast cancer.” You don’t need to ask pointed questions, like, “Will you be getting more treatment?” Just ask how she’s doing and as we said earlier – LISTEN.

If you have questions about breast cancer or breast reconstruction that haven’t been answered on our site, please see our comprehensive list of additional resources.

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