When my mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer, we were overwhelmed. We felt as if our lives were turned upside-down. For months, our days centered around her treatment. Of course, she had the expected response to chemo: She was lethargic and nauseous a lot of the time. There is very little about the season of life that I remember as positive for our family, especially for my mom. Now that she is well, I look back on that time and I am grateful for the one silver lining during all of the difficulty: we were showered with love and kindness by the people close to us.
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It's Difficult to Know how to Support Someone With Breast Cancer
When you are close with someone who has breast cancer, it can be difficult to know how to support them or to show them you care. They may be afraid to ask for what they need and you might be afraid to put yourself out there for fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. To make things a little easier for everyone involved, we’ve put together a list of dos and don’ts for caring for a loved one with breast cancer.
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The Do's & Don't of Caring for Someone With Breast Cancer
If you aren’t sure what your loved one needs, ask.
- Don't: Show up for visits unannounced. Chemotherapy is exhausting, you never want to be the reason a woman with breast cancer isn't getting enough rest.
- Do: Offer to keep her company during her treatment. The numerous appointments for treatment and checkups can feel endless, some women may enjoy having someone to talk to.
- Don't: Create pressure to try alternative treatment methods such as essential oils or extreme detox diets. Yes, chemotherapy is rough and hard on the body, but treatment plans should be chosen by the patient and her doctor.
- Do: Support her during recovering by offering to give her rides to and from her appointments, helping her with housework or offering to act as a babysitter if she has young kids at home.
- Don't: Show up with ready-to-eat meals unless specifically asked. Chemo can have a strange effect on a woman's appetite, and certain smells and flavors could make her feel sick.
- Do: Bring a frozen meal or takeout gift cards. One day, her appetite will return and she will appreciate having something convenient and tasty on hand.
- Don't: Assume every woman with breast cancer wants a hot pink hat or bumper sticker sharing her identity as a breast cancer survivor. Ask before you buy any gifts with a breast cancer theme, some women are more private than others and would feel embarrassed by the attention a gift like this would bring her.
- Do: Buy a useful and thoughtful gift. Think of gifts that can offer comfort to her during treatment. Consider a soft, knit hat to wear to bed since a lot of heat is lost through head, especially after hair loss. A high quality throw blanket, an uplifting book, or beautiful and warm loungewear would also be a great choice.
- Don't: Talk about her cancer all of the time. She may not want her illness to be the central theme of her life. Ask about her family, what books she has been reading or if she has been keeping herself busy with any new hobbies.
- Do: Check in with her on a regular basis. Ask her how she is feeling and what she needs to get through her week.
- Don't: Expect her to be able to keep up with her previous social schedule. Respect her need for quiet and rest, never pressure her to join you for a social activity.
- Do: Offer to spend time with her in her home. She may not feel up for a night out, but a movie night or a visit over a cup of tea is great way to keep her company if she is feeling lonely.
In the end, what a woman with breast cancer needs the most is to know she has friends and family who want to be there for her during this difficult season of her life.
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Tell us in the comments: How have you supported loved ones when they're dealing with major health issues? What other tips should we add to this list?