October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and every year thousands of women get screened thanks to awareness efforts. This also goes for male breast cancer patients. These screenings increase early detection and raise the survivability rate for breast cancer patients. But what about the loved ones of these new breast cancer patients?
Finding out a loved one has breast cancer can be a shock, but you can help. Here’s what to do to support a loved one or a friend who finds out they have breast cancer.
What to Say
Usually, when you find out a loved one’s going through a hard time, it’s instinctual to respond with something. But the first tip from cancer patients and cancer survivors is:
Don’t Say Anything, Just Listen
From the minute a doctor gives their patient diagnosis, they face feelings of fear and anxiety. It’s an entirely different way of living, a different field of health care, and it’s incredibly stressful. When you find out a loved one has breast cancer, and as they enter the process of diagnosis and treatment, do your best to listen and be there.
Let them express their worries, their fears, and their pain.
“What Do You Need?”
Breast cancer patients face many challenges on a daily basis, especially when going through intense breast cancer treatments. These treatments include chemotherapy and radiation therapy, and often leave patients with serious side effects.
Because you can’t take the immediate challenge away for them, find other ways to help. Ask them, “what do you need?” You might not get an answer, and that’s ok.
They might need help with chores, making dinner, taking care of their kids, or time alone to rest. Find out, and do your best.
Cancer treatment is a serious thing, but everyone needs a laugh. Make sure you know your loved one’s sense of humor and be intelligent to what they’re going through so your efforts don’t backfire. But know that it’s ok to try and make them laugh.
Be Empathetic and Respect Boundaries
One of the worst things you can do for anyone going through a hard time is be sympathetic.
Be empathetic instead.
Researcher Brene’ Brown shares that empathy means feeling with people. She also said, “Empathy means perspective taking, staying out of judgement, recognizing emotion in others, and communicating that.”
And if your loved one needs time alone or sets boundaries with you about what you should or shouldn’t do, respect that.
Mean What You Say
Finally, just mean what you say. If you say you’ll be there for someone, be there. If you say you’ll do anything to help and you get a call or text asking for help, do it. And if you’re not sure what to say, that’s ok too.
You don’t always have to give the perfect inspirational quote, just listen, acknowledge their feelings, and let them know that you care.
What Not To Say
On the flip side, it helps being aware of what not to say to a loved one with cancer. If you’re part of an extended family and have a relative who is diagnosed with breast cancer, try to avoid saying any of the following phrases.
“I know someone who had breast cancer…they died.”
Don’t add to the fear that your loved one is already feeling. The best thing you can do for them is to listen to them and empathize.
“You’re so brave”
When told this, one survivor said, “I have no choice.” Patients have to work with their breast cancer surgeons, oncologists, and doctors to decide on a treatment plan and then follow it. It’s what they have to do to survive.
“Have you tried___?”
While well-meaning, the best thing to do is support your loved one as they work with specialists to develop and follow their own treatment plan.
“At least you have a “good cancer.” ”
As many survivors and patients say, “there is no good cancer.”
“At least it could be worse.”
Remember how we talked about empathy? Let’s talk about sympathy for a moment. Brene’ Brown shares that sympathy usually shows up in any phrase that starts out with “at least.” It’s well-meaning, and it can come from trying to help people be positive, but it also invalidates the deep and painful feelings breast cancer patients and survivors face.
“But you’re better now.”
Breast cancer patients are either in active treatment, or they’re in remission. Remission does not mean that the cancer is gone for good. There’s always a chance it could come back.
What to Do
Going through treatment for breast cancer is a fight. Offer to help, but also offer to do specific things. Here’s a few ideas to help you get started.
- Take care of their kids
- Give them a ride
- Take notes
- Go to appointments with them
- Take care of household chores
- Offer to clean
- Go grocery shopping for them
- Give them a night out
Other acts of service and kindness that breast cancer patients have appreciated include receiving cards, messages, or funny videos or memes. A break from all the seriousness is certainly welcome.
Remember to be an open ear, or offer a shoulder to cry on when needed.
Respect and Support Their Decisions
Breast cancer patients have a plethora of difficult challenges that eat away at their energy. Having to worry about what someone else thinks of them should not be on the list. So, be respectful of their boundaries and when they want to pull away from interacting with you.
Don’t offer diet suggestions, because one side effect of cancer treatment includes changes in appetite and taste. Sometimes your loved one just needs a break and some comfort food.
When you’re planning family events or social gatherings, be sure to include them. Extend an open invitation so they don’t feel pressured if they’re not feeling well enough to attend.
Be Prepared for Physical and Emotional Challenges
If you’re supporting your loved one, be with them for the long haul. Caregiving is a marathon. Your loved one will have her good days and bad days. Do your research and learn about what other breast cancer patients have gone through.
Take Care of Yourself
You’re also part of this equation. You can’t be an effective caregiver if you don’t have anything to give. The best thing to do is actively find ways to relieve stress. For example, exercising regularly, getting healthy amounts of sleep, and doing things you love will help you give your loved one the support they need.
There are also breast cancer support groups for family members of breast cancer patients where you can find help and process through your challenges.
Join the Fight Against Cancer
Service is a healing activity. Joining the cause can give you and your loved one a chance to connect and work with other people facing the same challenges you are. Every October is International Breast Cancer Awareness Month, where caregivers, survivors, patients, friends and family members band together to raise awareness and raise funds for breast cancer programs.
In the United States, The National Breast Cancer Foundation encourages people to donate to the cause. They also encourage people to run fundraisers and other events in the name of Breast Cancer Awareness.
In England, Breast Cancer Now hosts Wear It Pink day which is one of the biggest fundraising events in the UK. Just like it sounds, they encourage participants to wear pink to raise awareness and host fundraisers to support research and care for breast cancer. They also provide these helpful tips for breast cancer support for family members.
This year, Wear It Pink Day will be Friday, October 23.
Breast Cancer Surgeons and Oncologists at The Surgical Clinics
If you or a loved one are looking for breast cancer treatment, call the breast cancer specialists at The Surgical Clinic. We work together with doctors, surgeons and oncologists to evaluate your treatment options and create a customized treatment plan specific to you.
Our Nashville breast cancer surgeons provide many types of breast cancer removal surgery that range from minimally invasive surgery to intensive surgery. We offer the most advanced approaches to breast cancer treatment, targeted therapy, breast-conserving surgery, and reconstructive surgery.
Fill out a contact form here on our website, or give us a call today to schedule your consultation.