How to support a friend who has breast cancer

How to support a friend who has breast cancer

From practical help to knowing what to say, we reveal the best ways to help your friend in need.

When you are diagnosed with cancer, you soon find out who your real friends are. If someone you love is in this position, make sure you’re one of those friends who steps up when the going gets tough.

From practical help to knowing what to say, we reveal the best ways to help your friend in need.

Say something. Anything

It’s not uncommon for women who have had breast cancer to report that people they had considered friends suddenly started avoiding them. It’s hard to know what to say to a friend with cancer - and the fear of saying something stupid or upsetting can be overwhelming. But whatever you come out with, you can’t possibly upset her more than by not being there for her. Don’t be afraid to admit: “I don’t know what I can say to make this better, but know that I am here for you.”

Offer practical support

Make her lunch, fill her freezer with meals she can defrost when her appetite is up to it, take her to the hospital for appointments, take over from her partner or main carer to give them a break, do her gardening, dog-walking, grocery shopping and so on.

You could also offer to help fill out the mountain of paperwork that comes with sickness benefit and health insurance claims for cancer treatment.

It’s okay to laugh

If you use humour as a coping mechanism, that’s great – your friend will probably need a laugh. And if she’s not in the mood, she’ll still appreciate the thought. Send her funny pictures, videos, links to articles that made you laugh. Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine.

Book regular visits

Always call before visiting. Offer to take something for lunch or tea so she doesn’t feel she has to cater for you. She might appreciate your company without the pressure to talk – you could suggest watching a film together, or take your book so you can keep yourself busy if she nods off. Suggest a short walk, or a drive in the countryside if she’s not up to walking – fatigue is a major side effect of cancer treatment.

Try not to always visit at the weekend, when she might have lots of visitors. And keep your visits short, sweet and regular.

Don’t be afraid to get physical

Are you a hugger? Then give her a hug - you’re not going to break her. Obviously if she’s had breast surgery be very careful, but physical touch is comforting and if your friend is feeling self-conscious with how she looks post breast cancer, show her you’re not put off one bit, hair or no hair, breasts or no breasts.

If you’re not a hugger, don’t feel you need to suddenly start – your friend might wonder what’s got into you! But you could give her arm a squeeze or kiss her cheek. No woman with breast cancer wants to feel that people are scared of getting close to her.

Be flexible

As you spend time with your friend and learn more about how the breast cancer treatment is affecting her, keep your eyes open for things you can offer to do for her, or with her, that might help.

Understand that while one day she can laugh and get out for a walk, a couple of days later she might not want to leave the sofa.

Don’t be disappointed or take it personally if she cancels a visit, and while you don’t need to be at her every beck and call, supporting someone with cancer means being there for her when she needs you, even if it might mean juggling other plans around a little.

Think before you speak

It’s unlikely you’re going to say something so bad that you’ll damage your friendship, but there are some things that are best kept to yourself. Your friend does not want to know about the woman next door’s second cousin twice removed who also had breast cancer. She certainly doesn’t want to hear that so-and-so, who she doesn’t know anyway, has died of cancer, or that perhaps if she’d not smoked, or drunk wine, that she might have avoided cancer.

She might also not want to hear about the article you read hailing the cancer-fighting benefits of a diet consisting of nothing but kale, or a new ‘miracle cure’. Judge the situation and her mood before broaching any sensitive subjects.

Don’t forget yourself

Supporting a friend with breast cancer can be demanding and upsetting. You need to be strong for her, and to do that you need to look after yourself and make sure your friends and family are supporting you while you support her. Remember to look after yourself too.

What do you find helps when a loved one is sick? Share any tips you may have in the comments section below.

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