Finding out that a friend has breast cancer can be surprising and upsetting. While your friend may have a long and unexpected road ahead, there are many reasons to be optimistic. Breast cancer is a treatable disease, and there have been huge leaps 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.
She or he (3% of breast cancer patients are men) may need to lean on you a little. Here are steps you can take to help them and also tend to your own feelings:
1. Reassure without promises
No one knows the future, so promising everything will be OK may ring falsely. Be supportive: “I’m here for you, and I will continue to be here for you, no matter what.” 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 “quarterback,” 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
Check in with your friend using “minimally invasive” communication, such as a text or email. And let your friend know you’re thinking of them without pressuring them to reply. Say something like, “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 chemo 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
- 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. You’re 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 so you can get the assistance and encouragement you need—UMC has many you can attend. View our support groups here.
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.