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How to Support a Friend through Breast Cancer Treatment

October 20, 2020

Finding out that a friend has breast cancer can be surprising and upsetting. You may be wondering if your friend will be OK. You might also ask yourself how you can help.

Breast cancer is a treatable disease. While your friend may have a long and unexpected road ahead, there are many reasons to be optimistic. There have been huge advances in treatment and care for people with breast cancer. While treatment is a daily challenge, there are ways to help.

Build a strong support system

Everyone with breast cancer deals with it differently. Depending on age, responsibilities, career status, family needs and existing support systems, your friend likely needs different kinds of care and attention at different times.

“I tell my patients with breast cancer that breast cancer care is a team sport,” says Dr. Holly Mason, Section Chief for Breast Surgery at Baystate Health. “There will be multiple members of the breast cancer team in terms of physicians, nurses and navigators; family and friends are an incredibly important part of that team, as well.”

She or he (1% of breast cancer patients are men) may need to lean on you a little. Or, they might look to you to be a major anchor. The level of support may change as your friend progresses through treatment.

Here are steps you can take to help them and also tend to your own feelings.

6 Ways to Be a Supportive Friend

1. Reassure without promises

No one knows the future. Be supportive: “I’m here for you, and I will continue to be here for you, no matter what.” Promising it will all be OK may ring false to your friend. Knowing they can count on your support will give them additional strength.

2. Find or become the quarterback

Your friend is juggling appointments, concerns about family and other demands. They may be overwhelmed by a barrage of well-meaning messages. Find a main point of contact they can rely on — or become that person. Funnel all offers of help through the “captain,” who communicates to the group about your friend’s needs and wants.

3. Be specific

Many people offer to help but a person dealing with the challenges of breast cancer treatment can’t always tell you exactly what they need. Remove the burden of yet another decision or choice by being as specific as possible with your offers:

  • “I’m bringing pizza on Friday night. Is there a particular place your family likes?”
  • “I’ll drive your carpool on Mondays and Thursdays."
  • “Would Sarah like to come over to play on Sunday morning?”

4. Check in but don’t push

Doctors often tout the benefits of minimally invasive surgery methods. A text or email is a minimally invasive communication method. It lets your friend know you’re thinking of them without pressuring them to reply. Check in on your friend regularly. Say, “You don’t need to respond. Just wanted to let you know I’m thinking about you.”

5. Anticipate their needs

If your friend is facing chemotherapy or surgery, consider purchasing things they may need. A small, thoughtful gift can bring cheer to a friend facing the unknown. Some suggestions:

  • Blanket, soft pillow or fuzzy socks
  • Netflix or Hulu subscription
  • Magazines
  • Nail polish, hand cream or lip balm
  • Head wraps
  • Ginger candies to help with nausea
  • Personalized tote bag

6. Find a support system

Supporting a friend through a rough patch can be exhausting. While you are supporting your friend, you are also experiencing an emotionally trying time. Talk to a friend, partner or someone who has supported a friend through breast cancer. Consider joining a support group online so you can get the assistance and encouragement you need.

A friend with breast cancer is still your friend. While they may be dealing with a challenge, they still want you by their side. Provide hope by creating and taking part in a support system that encourages your friend to focus on healing.

Seek out support groups. While many have been temporarily canceled due to COVID-19, some are still being held virtually. Here are some options in western Massachusetts:

Learn More About Breast Cancer Awareness Month