When you learn that a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer, it can be hard to know what to say or how to help. So we’ve pulled together some helpful hints and tips to give you some ideas on how best to support them.
LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN…did we say that enough?? By far the most important thing you can do to support someone you care about who is going through cancer is to listen to them. Don’t offer your opinion on their diagnosis or be overly positive and upbeat. They may be feeling scared, angry, sad or any of a multitude of emotions…let them know that that’s ok and that they can feel safe expressing what they’re feeling to you whenever they need to.
Learn. Educate yourself as to what your loved one may be going through, it will help you better support them. For example, you might wish to cook meals to help out, but people suffering from cancer may be on a special diet, or have small appetites or their taste may be affected by treatment, so what might have been their favourite slap up meal before diagnosis is not likely to be what they need during treatment. So be sure to ask what they would like before you dig out your casserole dishes!
Anticipate what your loved one will need. During treatment, many things will be more difficult or even impossible for your loved one. After breast surgery, for example, patients may be unable to drive for several weeks. Many insurance companies do not insure drivers post surgery for a specified number of weeks. You will probably have a good idea of your loved one's routine, so offer to pick up the kids from school or drive them to their appointments if that is what they need.
Asking for help is difficult, so be specific. Many people find asking for help difficult. You can make it much easier by being specific in what you offer. Don’t ask “What can I do to help?”, instead offer specific assistance “can I walk the dog?” or “Let me pick up some groceries for you”. Even better is to offer a regular piece of assistance your loved one can rely on. “I can take the kids to their piano lessons every week” or “Why don’t I pop over and cut the lawn each week/fortnight?”. This will make it much easier for your loved one to accept your help without feeling like they are imposing on you.
Always call before you drop in. There will be days when your loved one is not up to visitors, so if you don’t live with them, always check that it suits before you drop by.
Give thoughtful gifts. By putting a bit of thought into it, you can give a gift that really shows your loved one you are thinking about them. For example, skin can be sensitive, dry or sore when going through treatment, so some gorgeous hand or body lotion can be a great gift, choose lightly scented or unscented brands. A cosy blanket is ideal to help your loved one keep warm during much needed naps. Or what about some super comfy clothes, think soft, absorbent, breathable and seamless.
Attending medical appointments. If your loved one has asked you to attend a medical appointment with them, you can help them prepare by writing down a list of the questions they wish to ask ahead of time. If you sit in on the appointment, make sure you don’t talk for them, if they forget a question you can remind them, but above all pay close attention and even take notes of what is said so you can help them to recall everything afterwards.
And finally, a really important one for both of you, remember to support the person, not the patient. Your loved one is still your loved one first and foremost, so remember to treat them that way, they haven't become someone else just because of their cancer. You can still talk to them about all the usual things and continue to do some of the things you enjoyed together before their diagnosis. Watch a movie together, or share the latest gossip, you can have a some fun and a giggle together and hopefully you'll both feel a bit better in the process!
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