Thursday, October 12, 2017

How to support a friend with breast cancer

When your friend tells you they have breast cancer, it is a very sobering day. You may feel helpless in the face of the diagnosis and not sure what you can do. Take heart, your support is an important part of treatment. Many studies have shown that cancer survivors with strong emotional support adjust better to the changes cancer brings to their lives and report a better quality of life.

two women talking over coffee

As you spend time with your friend after her diagnosis, be observant. Look for ways that the cancer is affecting her life and see how you might be able to offer help. Above all, make sure your friend knows that she is important to you and that you care about how she's doing - no matter how she may feel or look or what she's able to do. What else can you do?

Continue being her friend

As her best friend, you know how she prefers to cope with things - give her that outlet when she needs it. Be prepared to handle the brunt of feelings that the patient isn't able to express or is afraid to share with her family or others. Anger, fear, despair... don't take any of them personally. Remember she is counting on your support and listening ear. She may also have days where she feels tired and weak, let her know that's understandable and instead of urging her to be strong, give her the space to have her feelings and know that your support is unconditional.

Help her family

Your best friend's loved ones may rely on you for information and ideas of how to help. Offer to attend appointments and take notes so your friend and her loved ones can focus on each other. If your friend has as family of her own, offer to take care of the basics that your friend may not be able to handle right now. Driving carpool, packing lunches and arranging for hot meals can be a huge relief to your best friend and her family. Talk to her caregiver to see what errands or projects you can help with. Helping her caregiver is important too.

Communicate with others

Your friend may not want to talk to others about her diagnosis or treatment. That's certainly her decision. Your role may be to relay the information she does feel comfortable sharing. Or perhaps simply tell people that you'll pass on their concern but that your friend isn't ready to talk about it in detail right now. Your actions can help shield her from unwanted attention and give her the space she needs to heal.

Let your friend be the guide

Some days your friend may want to dig into all the details of her illness. Other days she may need to be distracted by hashing through a favorite tv show or watching a movie. Often a person with cancer feels surrounded by reminders of her disease and she may turn to you to help her feel like a normal person again. Keep your normal routines in mind - if you used to have weekly lunch dates, keep those up when she's feeling well enough.

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Small acts that make a big impact

  • Clean your friend’s home for an hour every Saturday.
  • Care for your friend’s lawn or garden twice a month.
  • Baby-sit, pet-sit, or take care of your friend’s plants.
  • Return or pick up library books, movies, or books on CD.
  • Buy groceries.
  • Pick up prescriptions.
  • Help make to-do lists.
Give small, frequent gifts that can be used right away: favorite candies when her mouth is dry from chemo, a blanket if she gets cold easily from losing her hair. These small, useful gifts are often more meaningful than large, one-time gifts. Other gift ideas:
  • Soft, comfy socks
  • Fun hats or scarves
  • New pillowcases or pajamas
  • Her favorite lotion
  • Favorite or unusual foods or snacks
  • Pictures of friends
  • A CD or download of your friend’s favorite soothing music or nature sounds
  • Funny movies or a good book
  • Audio books
Your support as a friend will be an important part of your friend's cancer journey. Trust your instincts and when all else fails, just be present and let your friend know that you will always be there for her. 

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