How To Support Someone With Breast Cancer – Part 1, The Diagnosis
If someone you know has just received a breast cancer diagnosis, and you are looking for tips on how to support your special someone, this series of articles is offered to provide you with some inspiration.
The Diagnosis Phase
This first article offers some suggestions for the person who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer – in the very early stages. She (or he) may be dealing with fear, anger, grief, disbelief – so many emotions. A diagnosis of cancer can seem very unreal, and your help, genuine concern and support can make a huge difference.
First of all, because even the best-intentioned person can find themselves saying something incredibly stupid, here is a list of what NOT to say.
The following statements are not only not helpful, they can be detrimental to someone who is fighting breast cancer, so please avoid these:
“You’ll be fine.” Why: It’s dismissive, it doesn’t allow them to open up about how they feel, and it makes you seem uncaring.
“Oh, poor you!” Why: They don’t need your sympathy, they need your assistance and they need you to listen.
“I know how you feel.” Why: No you really don’t. Each person’s journey with breast cancer is very individual and even if you’ve had it, you still don’t know how they might be feeling.
“Were you a smoker?” or “Is it in your family?” Why: Not only is it none of your business, it doesn’t help that you’re trying to find out why they have cancer. They will be doing plenty of that themselves.
“I know someone who had breast cancer, unfortunately, she died from it.” Why: SO NOT HELPFUL. No one wants to hear that when they are fighting for their lives. They need hope. One careless statement can ring in a person’s ears for weeks or months and keep them from fighting as hard as they need to.
“Call me if you need anything.” Why: You are going to need to think about what they may need and then just provide it (check with them first though). Women are notorious for NOT reaching out when they need help, they are more apt to just soldier on and do it themselves. See below for a list of helpful things you can do.
“Will you be okay financially since you won’t be able to work?” Why: (A) This assumes that they won’t be able to work and more often than not, this is simply not the case. Working through breast cancer is not only possible, it’s recommended (unless the job is toxic and they need to take a break from it) because it provides a bit of normality, some focus, and the camaraderie of work colleagues; and (B) unless they choose to share their financial situation with you, it’s none of your business.
“I think you should (xyz).” Why: What you think SO doesn’t matter. As mentioned above, the breast cancer journey is a very individual one. If you know of a therapy that you think might help, by all means, share it – be a fact finder, not an advice giver. Don’t tell your friend how they should be changing their lifestyle or diet. In this initial, early stage, it may be hard enough for them just to get out of bed in the morning. Share an article if you like – printed information allows your friend to make the choice for themselves.
Helpful Things To Say
“I’m here for you. Would you like to share with me a little more about what you’re going through?”
“I would love to help you. Would you like me to bring you some healthy meals or juices – or organize a network of friends to do this for you?”
“We will see this through together, I am beside you all the way.”
“I know this is hard for you, but I want you to know that I will do all I can to support you.”
“I’m really sorry you are going through this. Please know that you can count on me for anything you need.”
9 Things You Can Do To Genuinely Help During the Diagnosis Phase
- Does your friend need help gathering information about the diagnosis received? Offer to do some Internet research – you will be more clearheaded and less overwhelmed. Feel free to use the information on this website if it resonates with you.
- Be available to listen. They are going through a gamut of emotions – some of which might not make any sense to you. But develop your listening skills and really hear them. You may not need to make any comment at all, but just be there. Hold their hand. If you don’t mind receiving a phone call in the middle of the night, be sure to share that and I mention that because the middle of the night is when women with breast cancer lie awake worrying. Having a friend to talk to really, really helps.
- Go to doctor’s appointments with your friend, especially if a spouse or partner isn’t available to go. Get together before each visit and write down a list of the questions that you both have. Be a note taker and an advocate for your friend. Make sure your friend understands the doctor’s proposed treatment plan – and why it’s being offered. Two sets of listening ears is always better than one, especially if your friend is feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
- Keep in close contact with phone calls and/or emails and/or text messages. Not enough to make your friend feel overwhelmed, but just to be there for them. Keep that going – not just at the first, but as the days and weeks progress when most people have stopped doing this.
- Help them set up a breast cancer page on websites that help patients connect with their friends and families. That way they aren’t feeling overwhelmed with calls or emails – they can just put their updates on the page and everyone can see it. Caringbridge.org, carepages.com, mylifeline.org are all good.
- If you know someone who has fought breast cancer and survived it, talk with that person and see if it’s okay if you share their contact details with your newly-diagnosed friend. Having someone to speak with who’s “been there and done that” could be a life-changing thing for them.
- Give them a copy of “Radical Remission” by Dr Kelly A Turner. It’s full of hope and great stories of survival from cancer.
- Make them a care package – a book full of jokes, some healthy food, a light-hearted movie, a beautiful scarf – all of these things can help to cheer them up. Remember laughter is the best medicine.
- If your friend isn’t good about saying “yes” to your offers of help, you may need to be more persuasive. Gently at first, but more persistently later. They may not be good about saying “yes” and you may just need to take no notice of them saying “no”. You’re treading a fine line here – but if you are a good friend to this person, you should be able to tell when someone actually needs your help and is too afraid to ask for it, or genuinely does not want you to do something.
I hope this article helps someone out there. If you would like to add your idea to the list, please feel free in the comments section. You might also find some assistance within the pages of this website. One of my articles in particular may help your friend: Newly Diagnosed? Dealing With Anxiety And Fear.
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