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How to Provide Emotional and Practical Support for a Loved One with Breast Cancer


When a friend or loved one tells you they have breast cancer you may be wondering what you can do to help make their life easier during this trying time. Keep in mind that they are telling you because you are a trusted and important person in their life. The first thing you can do for them might just be the easiest!


Listen


Allow your loved one to tell their story in as much detail as they wish. You might initially feel shocked, but be mindful to remain focused on the conversation. Saying something like “How could this happen?” might be what you’re thinking, but it won’t be helpful for the person wondering the same.


Don’t be afraid of emotion. After all, you're in their inner circle for a reason. Listen to their whole story and let them know you are here for them in any capacity they need.


Ask who they have told, they might want your help in telling others so they don’t have to.  Bear in mind, that they are probably going to hear “take one day at a time” a lot. This is a natural response, with good intentions, but can be hard to do.  Asking “What can I do for you right now?” is a reasonable question that keeps the focus on the present.


Practical support


This refers to helping with typical activities of daily living including cooking, laundry, errands, transportation, etc. If they give you the okay, also disperse these tasks to others in their inner circle and community. When diagnosed with cancer or any other chronic illness that requires frequent medical appointments, people are often hesitant to ask for help. No one wants to be a burden. Normalcy is sacred, and they want to maintain it as much as possible.

·        Start a meal train: No one wants to think about what to make for dinner, especially when going to and from doctor appointments and treatment.

·        Gift cards: Amazon, gas, VISA, restaurants, grocery stores, retail. Any of these will end up relieving some burden.

·        Childcare: Particularly young children who may need entertainment while their parent is healing or in treatment. This time can be hard on children too, and knowing that they are being cared for by someone they trust is the greatest peace of mind for a parent. This also can include helping with transportation to sports and after-school activities. Parents want their children to be as least affected by what they are going through as possible.  


Educate yourself.


When diagnosed with breast cancer, the patient quickly becomes the expert they never wanted to be in their type of cancer. Thanks to Google, TikTok, and other social media platforms, knowledge (both accurate and false) is at our fingertips. As we all know, this comes with the good and the bad.


Breast cancer type, pathology, tumor marker, and treatment options, differ from one person to the next. For example, let’s say your loved one is diagnosed with hormone-positive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), also known as, stage 0 breast cancer. Before even meeting with the surgeon or oncologist, they will likely have already researched statistics, treatments, and suggestions from others who have gone through the same. If you also do your research, they will appreciate the knowledge and insight you bring to the conversation. Many patients feel like they are speaking another language when trying to explain what they are going through; being able to understand and contribute to the conversation is incredibly thoughtful. They will feel less alone in their journey.


With your research, use caution in sharing personal opinions. Another thing the internet is good at? Telling you there’s a solution/cure/remedy for everything. Once your loved one has made up their mind with their treatment plan, it’s best to support them in the informed decision they made with the help of their medical professional team. An example of a helpful suggestion would be offering to take a strength class with them at the YMCA because you read that weight-bearing exercises are good for bone and joint health, which combats the potential side effects of anti-hormone medication.


Supporting a loved one with breast cancer requires listening, empathy, practical assistance, and a little education. You are an immeasurable support in more ways than you know! Together, you will navigate this journey and emerge stronger.


Dr. Lauren Mackie, DNP, FNP-C is a freelance medical writer, specializing in breast health. She is also a doctoral-prepared family nurse practitioner in oncologic breast surgery. She can be reached at lauren@mackiemedicalwriting.com or mackiemedicalwriting.com for inquiries. Opinions are her own and should not be a substitute for professional medical advice.

 

 

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