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Supporting and Caring for Someone with Breast Cancer

According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc., a woman in the US is diagnosed with breast cancer every 2 minutes, on average. A breast cancer diagnosis can be scary, and is never easy. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or coworker, offering extra support when someone you know is going through breast cancer treatment is an excellent way to show you care. We’ve put together a list of a few ways you can offer support to a loved one going through this difficult situation, as well as some helpful resources.

Post-diagnosis practical support

If you’re able to visit the person you know who’s been diagnosed, there are a few things you can help with around the house. The physical toll that cancer and cancer treatments can have on the body may make it hard for your friend or family member to take care of daily tasks. 

  • Help with the cleaning. A clean environment will help your friend feel more at home, and it makes it easier to relax. Offer to come over and clean the house, do laundry, vacuum, or take care of other household chores. With your help, it’s one less thing for them to worry about. 
  • Cooking and meal prepping. Eating right is hard enough for most of us, let alone with the added stress of a breast cancer diagnosis. Whether you make them a nice dinner, or help prep food for the week, you can be sure your friend will enjoy having healthy, home-cooked food around the house. 
  • Babysitting and childcare. Taking care of young kids is exhausting on a good day. You can offer to babysit while your friend has doctor visits or treatments. You can also take the kids to school, drop them at after-school activities, or even just offer to take them to the park for a while so your friend can relax in a quiet, worry-free house. 
  • Financial support. Cancer care can be expensive, and because of the unexpected nature of a diagnosis, most families are unprepared to pay for the necessary medications and treatments. If you’re able, helping to pay for medical costs can take a huge burden off your loved one. However, this can be a tricky subject to navigate, so be sure to talk this over before you offer financial support.  

If you can’t be there in person, there are still things you can do to support your loved one. You can schedule food deliveries or in-home services to help them out. If you have a knack for organization, offer to create a monthly calendar to help them organize doctor appointments, work, and schedule time for relaxation. And of course, you can send a care package, or get them a Soothe gift card for an at-home massage.

Even if you’re just trying to be helpful, some people may feel embarrassed or shameful that their diagnosis is leaving them unable to take care of the things they normally handle. That’s why when you offer your support, to do so in a way that’s respectful and friendly. Daily tasks can be overwhelming for somebody who’s mentally and physically exhausted. So instead of asking a generic question, like “what can I do to help?” offer to do something specific. 

Be there for them emotionally

A breast cancer diagnosis can trigger a wide range of emotions. Sadness, fear, frustration, anger, and depression are all common emotional reactions to a diagnosis. When you offer emotional support to a loved one, there are a few important things to keep in mind. 

They may not want to talk about the diagnosis or prognosis. In fact, they may not want to talk at all! But just being present with them can help them feel supported. Let them guide the conversation in the direction that makes them feel better. The most important thing when offering emotional support is to let them express their emotions, however long that takes. 

If your loved one is feeling angry about their breast cancer diagnosis, they may lash out at you. Understand that this is normal, and is often because they are upset about their diagnosis, not something you did. If the anger continues, take a step back and evaluate your actions, and make sure you’re not pushing them or causing more stress than is needed. 

It’s ok to cry. Being sad is a natural part of receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, even if the prognosis is good. However, it’s important that you stay positive when talking with your loved one. They’re depending on you! Mood swings are also common in people diagnosed with breast cancer. Often the stress of medications and treatments can result in depression, tiredness, or anger. 

Care for yourself, too

As the saying goes, you can’t give from an empty cup. In order to be there for your friends and family, you have to take some time for yourself too. Understand that when somebody you love has been diagnosed with cancer, you may suffer from distress too. And that’s perfectly normal! 

Now is a good time to make sure you’re exercising regularly, eating well, and getting enough sleep. These are important for your physical health, and also may help you cope with the many feelings that can accompany a breast cancer diagnosis. If your loved one is up for it, you can also do some of these things together. Go for walks together, eat healthy meals together, or start a meditation practice together.

Your own mental health is important too. If you’re having trouble coping with the diagnosis, consider joining a support group for friends and family members, or talking with a licensed therapist. Find healthy outlets for your stress, and don’t push your own mental health to the wayside! Your friend needs you to be strong with them. But you can only do that if you’re prioritizing your mental and physical wellbeing, as well as theirs.

Additional resources

We’ve put together more resources to help you care for loved ones diagnosed with breast cancer.