20+ UNCOMPLICATED Ways To Comfort Your Breast Cancer Survivor Friend

20+ Ways To Comfort A Breast Cancer Survivor | My Fabulous Boobies [black woman in a blue floral skirt, white shirt and black heels leaning to the left]
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Do you really know how to help her? Without making it all about you?

Your good friend was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Your heart just broke into a million pieces. You're scared. Deeply scared for her and you don't know what to do next.

Should I call? Visit? OMG! How could this happen? Will she be okay? What does this mean? How can I help? What do I do....

A diagnosis of breast cancer is terrifying. For the patient, for the family, and for her friends. It sends the hardest of us into a tailspin of panic... There's so much unknown, there's so much fear and there's a lot of confusion. Our first instinct is to reach out and to try to help in some way. But then there's a pause... How DO you help someone diagnosed with breast cancer?

You could do the basic stuff (basic in this case doesn't mean bad)

The floral industry would have you to believe that flowers make everything better. The candy industry thinks that chocolate is the answer to all the blues that you may experience. And do I have to mention how the liquor and wine industry feels? I mean... who doesn't want a nice big glass of wine when overwhelm hits your life?

*raises hand slowly*  I have a special glass for those bad days. Don't judge me. (Hey, it's pretty and it holds a LOT of wine...)

If the person who was recently diagnosed is someone who is not very close to you - a co-worker, a church friend, the lady at the dry cleaners who always starches your shirts just right - then flowers, or candy or maybe a nice bottle of wine (with a gentle sympathy/get well card) is sufficient. I mean, this is someone you know, someone you're acquainted with but not necessarily someone that you have major memories with.

If the person diagnosed can't tell a story about you that makes you blush, laugh or cringe in terror at the memory of it... keep the gift and the acknowledgment pretty simple and basic. It's about respecting the privacy of the patient. Don't overstep your boundaries. 

A diagnosis of breast cancer is an extremely sensitive and private matter. The new patient-survivor may not have really digested what has just happened to her life. The last thing she needs is to have to try to explain something so personal to someone she really only knows in a surface way. Respect her privacy and keep your gift acknowledgment simple but appropriately empathetic.

If you're closer than an acquaintance or you feel led to do something that really helps... you have to get more personal with your effort

Okay, you're still with me... GREAT! Let's dig deeper. I need you to understand some things that your friend/loved one may not even have accepted yet about her situation. It's about to get REALLY VERY HARD. I don't say that to be alarmist but I'm being honest. Chemotherapy, mastectomies or lumpectomies, radiation, all types of scans, more doctor visits than she'll even remember going to, bills, bills, bills... breast cancer is a heavy situation to go through. Most of us who are diagnosed with breast cancer do survive. But not all of us and that is going to weigh on her mind in a major way. Cancer treatment is difficult. It just is. And it keeps many of us unable to continue to work while we're taking care of our health. We will struggle with basic things that most people take for granted. What follows is a list of ways to support a breast cancer survivor -- compiled from responses by breast cancer survivors based on their own experiences.

The help she REALLY needs (and may not ask for)

This list is in no particular order. 

  1. Drive her to/from daily radiation treatments or chemo treatments. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments are physically draining. A ride from a trusted friend eases your mind.
  2. Cook meals and deliver them to your friend. (for an additional boost of greatness, be sure to include disposable plates and eating utensils, cups and drinks)
  3. Take the kids for a day or overnight so the patient and spouse can rest
  4. Go over to her house once a week to clean and tidy up (if you have to disguise it as visiting with nervous hands... that's okay)
  5. Call her regularly - not too often because she's going to be really tired and in need of rest. But regular calls with good friends means that she hasn't been forgotten. That matters.
  6. Offer to sit with her during her chemotherapy infusion (they can take a few hours to complete).
  7. Be sure to ask her how she wants to experience her chemotherapy (does she prefer to chat endlessly about anything but cancer, laughing at terrible jokes and funny movies, being quiet and non-disruptive...ask her what works best for her and then do that).
  8. ALWAYS offer your help. Even when she's being stubborn and even if she says no every time. Make the offer. 
  9. Gift cards for food are great. Example: A $50 gift card to McDonalds or Starbucks can be used for frozen smoothies/cold drinks that help ease the discomfort of mouth sores. 
  10. A care basket of kids crafts for the children. 
  11. Classmates of the kids could offer to host a sleepover to give mom & dad a break and to give some normalcy for the children. 
  12. Take your friend on a car ride. Doesn't have to be a super detailed trip, just an opportunity to get out of the house and to spend some time with a friend. Doing nothing like friends sometimes do. 
  13. Go to the grocery store for her. Your friend may not have enough energy to grocery shop for herself or her family. A simple task that makes a huge impact. (If you can afford to pay for the groceries too, even better)
  14. Invite the husband/spouse/significant other out for a day or an evening to give him a break and offer some social support. 
  15. Be a good listener. Seriously... just listen. Sometimes we need to talk and get some things off of our chest. 
  16. Send a card - through the mail. You remember those paper things we used to look forward to receiving and used to send often? Yes... send those. Send one. Send one every week, every month. Opening mail that isn't something from the hospital or the insurance company... that doesn't bring any bad news, just comforting thoughts that someone cares... such a good feeling. 
  17. Keep the patient first, always. People with good intentions of being supportive very often make having breast cancer about their fear and their sadness, instead of focusing on the patient and her needs and fears and concerns. Keep the patient first. 
  18. Drop off a goodie bag with pampering items. (fluffy socks, really hydrating lotion -unscented preferably, bath salts, a thick blanket, etc.)
  19. Make sure that your schedule is flexible because changes happen constantly.
  20. Go to appointments with them. Actually sit with them when they talk with the oncology team.  Pay close attention and take notes. 
  21. Be an advocate for them. Especially if you plan to be at every appointment, know to speak up for their needs and concerns. 
  22. Remember that chemo brain is real and be forgiving of forgetfulness. Patients can often forget certain aspects of their treatment that concern them, or questions that they thought of since their last appointment. A lot of information is given at each appointment and things can be missed or forgotten. 
  23. Always carry a travel bag with certain necessities, including a vomit bag. (A clean shirt, a scarf, maybe a travel blanket, etc.) Anything is possible after chemo, be prepared.
  24. Encourage the patient to take time for their relationship. Cancer takes over your life, carve out time for dates (dates at home can be really nice if she's too weak or tired to go out)
  25. Take pictures of your friend. She may not like it... but get pictures of her journey. I didn't take a lot of pictures while I was in treatment but in hindsight, I really wish I had. I treasure the few pictures I do have from that time in my life. 
  26. Use technology to stay connected. Facetime, Google hangouts, Skype, twitter, even text messages. Whatever you can use to stay connected to your friend, do that. There may be times during her treatment that she can't have visitors, but she may be able to get on a google hangout and talk for a few moments. 
  27. Money, gift cards, surprise bill payments - monetary assistance will likely be extremely helpful. Unless the survivor is independently wealthy or financially well-fixed, the cost of cancer will become overbearing. If you can afford to do so (and there's no shame if you cannot), a financial gift will likely help a lot. 

As you may notice from this list, your friend really needs your help. These are easy tasks but they will do so much to help her. Your friend is still the same person she was before breast cancer - she's going to worry about her kids, the laundry pile in the corner, what's for dinner, etc. Life still goes on. But she's got a terrible disease that will take every bit of strength she has to fight. And that fight will leave her exhausted and weak. She just needs a helping hand.

At the same time... there are a few things that you should NOT do

  1. Don't question the patient's decisions for treatment. It is hard enough to make the decisions you need to make about your treatment. She wants to save her life, probably more than you... don't diminish the choices she's made. 
  2. Never say "maybe you should have". Unless you are an oncologist, she's probably not going to appreciate your second guessing of the hardest decisions she's ever had to make.
  3. Don't allow the patient to feel like giving up. Keep her encouraged. But... do so with transparency and honesty. Do not be overly perky or chipper (unless that's your natural state) and make it seem as though this isn't a big deal. It is. But still encourage her to keep going. 
  4. Don't be afraid to talk about cancer. She probably wants to discuss it. She's also probably scared to discuss it with you because she doesn't want to overwhelm you. Talk about the disease, it helps. 
  5. NO stories about someone you knew with breast cancer who died. I promise you... this conversation does not do what you want it to do. It only freaks her out more. Save it. 
  6. Don't be negative around your friend. There is a fine line between being honest but upbeat and being unnaturally perky/optimistic. Positive thoughts and conversations help a lot. 

Things that survivors can (and should) do

  1. Survivors should reach out to other survivors (when they feel strong enough to do so). Let new survivors know that they are not alone. Cancer can feel very isolating. A kind talk with someone who understands what "this" is all about, helps immensely.
  2. While in treatment pamper yourself, eat right and rest as much as possible. 
  3. Don't act like everything is okay and nothing is happening. It's not good for you to delude yourself. And it's not good for the people who love and care for you either. 
  4. If you feel down or angry or negative... it is okay.for the brighter side. You're human. Get mad. This is something to be angry about.
  5. Find someone to talk to - a counselor, a therapist, the social worker at the hospital, a good friend, your pastor, your parent, someone trustworthy and who cares about your well-being.
  6. If you like social media, find a group of survivors to join. Facebook has many breast cancer groups. You can search twitter and instagram #breastcancer hashtags to find like minded people. 
  7. Definitely consider joining a support group. Being able to discuss what you're going through, what your concerns are and to ask the difficult questions with people who know is invaluable. Ask your oncologist or the social worker at your cancer center about support groups. 

That's it. Yes, yes... I know that was more than 20 recommendations. In my defense, I did say 20 plus. (laughs) There are many more suggestions that I could make - but the bottom line is that your friend is entering a really rocky and scary time in her life. And it will last for a good bit of time (a year or longer). So the help she needs will be ongoing and pretty personal. She needs good people around her that she can trust to help take care of her and her family. I believe that you have it in you to do this. You read this entire post -- and I know it is hella long -- so I believe your desire to help your friend is real.

Thanks so much! If you like this post, please share it on your social media channels. And if you're not on the mailing list for the Fab Squad, please join now. Talk to you soon.


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