Being diagnosed with breast cancer is a fear that most women have. In fact, waiting for a mammogram and the ensuing results can be very frightening. If a woman is told that she has breast cancer, you can bet a hundred thoughts consume her brain within seconds.
The immediate thoughts are a fear of death, the loss of breasts through mastectomy, and cancer treatments, and if they can even afford to have cancer.
The first thought for many women isn’t even about themselves — it’s about their children and loved ones. How will they cope?
There are many ways to help a friend who has breast cancer. Here are a few.
1) Take Care of Her Children
A mother fears for her children's well-being as soon as she gets her diagnosis.
How will I tell them? Who will take care of them when I’m in surgery or treatment? What if I die?
If Mom has a husband or partner, he or she will likely be working to support the family and will also be helping her with cancer “stuff.” This is where you, the friend, can jump in and help. Join with some friends and set up a babysitting plan.
Have the kids for a sleepover. Bring them dinner — check first to see if they want any food, and if so, what kind they’d like. Help them with homework. Take them bowling, swimming, to the movies, and to any activity that will help get their minds off their mom’s health.
It’s frightening and confusing for a child when their mother is ill and doesn’t get well after a few days. Their world changes entirely. Any mother with breast cancer who has a friend who will take care of her children when needed has a real friend indeed. This will relieve her of stress and guilt and help her focus on getting better.
The same goes for the woman who has pets. Walk them, feed them, love them, even take them in for a while. Pets are like family for most people, so caring for them when she can’t will give her enormous relief.
2) Take Care of Her Home
There are several reasons to take care of her home. She certainly took care of it, or rather did, before getting sick. Cancer treatments don’t always mean a woman is constantly feeling unwell but coming home to a clean home (especially when going through chemo which can lower her immune system) will simply make her feel happier coming home.
Sweep, clean, sort and do a little laundry. If she has children, she’ll appreciate even more that her children’s home is tidy and welcoming for the whole family. You don’t have to overwhelm her with buzzing around her home or family, but being there when needed can be a saving grace.
3) Listen to Her
ABC News ran an article about the different ways to help a woman during this time. One woman interviewed said she really appreciated someone just telling her to talk, and listening to her try to work out her plans in her own time.
Victoria Irwin, 57, a writer in Orinda, California who had cancer in 2013, spoke of her friend. "She didn't give advice, but acknowledged the difficulty of the situation. That listening was the most helpful thing she could have done."
Advice is not always appreciated, especially from a friend who has never had cancer. Letting your friend talk through her plans, her fears and her experiences can be far more productive. Be her sounding board when she needs one. And don’t forget that it’s OK to make her laugh. Laughter is a great way to get through a difficult moment.
4) Some Don’ts
Cancer.org says that women fighting cancer really don’t need to hear certain well-being bits of advice. They include:
- Don’t urge your friend to be strong or fight the breast cancer if she doesn’t feel up to it.
- Don’t leave out your friend when talking to others in the room, or assume she can’t hear you even if she appears to be asleep.
- Don’t offer medical advice or your opinion on things like diet, vitamins and herbal therapies.
Nobody's perfect. You can’t walk on eggshells around your friend who has breast cancer the entire time. You may (hopefully only on a rare occasion) put your foot in it when it comes to saying or doing something she doesn’t appreciate while she’s sick. It’s OK — you’re her friend. You’re human. And you’re trying.
She’s got tunnel vision, she's exhausted and scared. Maybe on some days she’s just numb or too busy vomiting to care. So don’t expect a ton of thanks when she’s in the thick of it. She may be grumpy on some days and forget to appreciate you on others.
But odds are she’ll pull through and when she does, she’ll know you were there. Not just for her, but for her family, her home and her whole world. So don’t wait for an invitation. Tread softly and carefully, but do all you can to help, and know that you are an instrumental part of her recovery.
ABC News. “22 Ways to Help a Friend With Breast Cancer”. Web. Retrieved Oct 28th 2015.
Cancer.org. “When Your Friend Has Breast Cancer”. Web. Retrieved Oct 28th 2015.
Reviewed October 30, 2015
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith