Even though it is estimated that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, hearing of a loved one’s diagnosis still hits us like a ton of bricks. And, after the initial shock, our first thought is: “What can I do to help?” Yet, sometimes we’re so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing that we end up doing nothing at all.
I have an amazing group of women in my life who have battled (or are battling) breast cancer. Whenever a new friend is diagnosed, I go to these veterans for information and tips. Here are their thoughts on the best ways to help:
First and foremost (and this can’t be stressed enough) we should never say, “Let me know if you need anything.” Usually, women with breast cancer are used to being self-sufficient. It is difficult for them to ask for help at the best of times and even harder when they are tired and sick. Instead say: “I’m bringing you dinner, what night would you like it?” or “I’m coming to clean your house, may I do it today?”
That being said, here are some more helpful tips:
- Bring a birdfeeder and hang it so your friend can see it from their bed or the couch (this was mentioned by three different ladies!).
- Buy them a cute scarf or a soft hat.
- Give them gift certificates to restaurants (especially those that have “to-go” food or a delivery service).
- Bring them some easy-on-the-tummy food.
- Mow her lawn.
- Plant flowers in her yard.
- Go with her to doctor appointments and take notes for her.
- Offer to sit with her during chemo (it’s long and booooring).
- Take her to have her nails done.
- Give her massage certificates.
- Start an email prayer group and offer to keep her friends posted on all updates and prayer requests.
- Clean her house! (One friend cried when a friend offered to do this, she was so happy!)
- Set up a care calendar online so people can sign up to bring meals.
- Send flowers or bring them from your garden.
- Run errands with her or for her.
- Take her for short walks or just set up chairs and a blanket outside so she can get a bit of fresh air.
- Bring tea over and sit for a gentle chat.
- Let her vent. Instead of regaling her with stories of people you know who “have gone through the same thing”, let her talk and cry and laugh and share.
As you can see, there are gestures both big and small that we can make. Even if you barely know the woman (or man) who is going through treatment, a card is always appreciated. One friend mentioned the cards she has received from people she never would have expected them from: her hairdresser, people she’s never met before from a Facebook group she runs, etc. These simple gestures mean the world to her and let her know that people care.
It should also be (sadly) noted that many women were shocked at the people who didn’t support them, people they’d known for years who they counted as good friends. One lady’s mother hid from her because she couldn’t handle that her daughter was sick.
If you’re worried about doing or saying the wrong thing, just remember this tip: Each person’s breast cancer recovery plan is theirs alone. It isn’t our place to question their preferences or to offer unwanted advice. Our job is simply to be available and to listen.
Also, remember that recovery from breast cancer can be a long process (often taking a year or more). People tend to run to help in the first weeks and then disappear. Your loved one will need help and companionship long after the initial diagnosis.
I leave you with this quote from my friend, Helen, who has been battling breast cancer for 17 years:
“My big need is connection. I would say to anyone who doesn’t know what to say or how to react: just stay connected and do what you feel is needed. Send a text, a postcard, a meal, a gift or whatever. A person with cancer does not want to be left alone.”
Also: Chemo Bag Ideas!