Finding out that a friend, family member, neighbor or colleague has been diagnosed with a serious illness like breast cancer raises tough questions. What should you say? What do they need? How can you help? Would they want you to help?
It’s normal to feel unsure about how to react or respond. Likely, the person who you’re trying to support is feeling unsure as well. What’s important is that you do something. There are many different ways you can remind someone that they’re not in this fight alone. Select the options that seem the best fit given your relationship with the person and their personality.
- Care for the primary caregiver.
One of the best things you can do for someone with breast cancer or another serious illness is to check on the person who is caring for them. Offer to spend time with your friend or family member so the caregiver can rest, grab a cup of coffee, work or run errands. Ask the caregiver how they are doing and what you can do to take some of the workload off of them.
- Take care of everyday tasks.
Completing basic tasks like grocery shopping, cleaning and running errands are a huge help to a breast cancer patient. If you’re headed to the store or pharmacy, ask what you can pick up for them. Offer to stop by weekly to help tidy up the house. Or consider paying for a cleaning, grocery or meal delivery service that can help when you can’t.
- Help with the kids, pets or parents.
For many breast cancer patients, the less their illness affects the rest of the family, the happier they can be. Offer to take the kids to basketball practice, school or a movie to get their minds off of what’s going on at home. Ask if you can walk the dog, water the plants or take care of any other responsibilities like taking parents to their own appointments.
- Listen if they want to talk.
The breast cancer treatment process can be overwhelming. Sometimes talking about what the doctor has said, an article they read online or just how they’re really feeling can be incredibly therapeutic. Try not to offer advice or opinions. Just listen to what they have to say. And if they don’t want to say anything, make sure they know that’s fine, too.
- Be an appointment buddy.
The primary caregiver shouldn’t be forced to choose between going to doctor’s appointments and working so they can pay the medical bills. If your schedule allows, take your friend or family member to their appointments. Sit with them while they get chemo. Take notes of anything the doctor or nurse says, since it’s often difficult for the patient to remember or process instructions.
- Give the gift of distractions.
Keep in mind that your friend is going to spend a lot of time at home and in doctor’s offices, so consider useful gifts such as books, movie or music subscriptions and puzzles. Play a game with them. Watch a favorite TV show. Just keep in mind that treatments can affect a person’s taste buds and sense of smell so you may want to ask before bringing food, flowers or perfumes.
- Check in frequently.
Even when surrounded by others, people with serious illnesses often feel alone. Send texts and cards, call and visit them often. If they don’t answer right away, leave a message and keep trying. They may not feel up to a conversation at that moment, but most will appreciate your effort. If you are visiting them at home, consider a weekday afternoon or other time that they don’t get many guests.