Helping a Friend Cope with Breast Cancer

A breast cancer diagnosis is life changing. Here’s what you can do to help a friend through it.

Seven years ago, when my childhood friend, Susie, told me she had breast cancer, my first reaction was disbelief. She’s the healthiest person I know – fit, beautiful and radiant.

But breast cancer doesn’t discriminate. It affects one in eight women in the United States of all races, ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, shapes and sizes. Latinas in particular are at greater risk – breast cancer is the #1 cause of cancer-related death for Hispanic women.

Once my disbelief subsided, my second reaction was to jump into action. What could I do to help her?

I learned that the desire to provide comfort and assistance is great, but it’s more important to listen to your loved one for ways you can help. No one “right” method exists, but you can show your love and friendship in countless ways. Here are some ideas to provide a friend with much-needed support:

Lend an ear
Sometimes nothing you can say will make the situation better – she might just be having a bad day, fighting fatigue or coping with the effects of treatment. During these times, the best thing you can do is just listen and be good company. Try to hold back the urge to give your opinion, solve the problem or say encouraging words that sound cliché.

Lend a hand
If she has children or is the primary caregiver for her grandparents or other older family members, she’s likely struggling to balance her personal health with the responsibilities she can’t ignore. Offer to run errands, pick up groceries or take the kids to school. She might also appreciate the company and support during doctor’s appointments or chemotherapy treatments.

Household tasks and chores will be more difficult for her to manage, too. Offer to make dinner, drop off a hot meal or have food delivered – just make sure to call ahead to coordinate. Recruit others to form a cleaning crew to tackle vacuuming, dusting, cleaning and laundry as often as possible.

Round up the girls

Plan a girl’s night out (or in) to help give her a small sense of normalcy in a life that’s been tilted into chaos. The plan doesn’t have to be elaborate – sometimes Susie and I would just talk quietly over a pizza. If she was feeling good, she’d call her closest girlfriends and hit the town. When making plans to get together, keep in mind that the point is to help her relax, have fun and take her mind off her treatment plan for a while.

These are some of the things I did to help my friend. What experiences have you had helping loved ones through a breast cancer diagnosis?


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