For Friends and Family

How to provide emotional and practical support to a loved one with breast cancer

Posted by Sara Liyanage on 13 August 2021

I keep barking on about how in life, everyone needs to know that they are cared about, writes Sara. But that is because it is so important to show someone that you care about them when they have been diagnosed with cancer. A cancer diagnosis turns your world upside down and overnight you can become scared, emotional, vulnerable and anxious. Having friends and family step up and show kindness is a lifeline that can carry you through from diagnosis to the end of treatment (and importantly, beyond).

Practical support to help someone going through breast cancer

Practical help is the biggest gift you can give your friend or family member while they go through surgery, chemo or radiotherapy. It is priceless and I could not have got through the past year without all the practical help from my friends and family.

  1. Deliver meals she can freeze and reheat at a later date (but check if any food allergies, taste issues arising out of treatment etc.).
  2. Help with childcare after school, at weekends and during school holidays.
  3. Offer to organise a rota with other friends to help out with childcare, school runs, children’s club runs, chemo trips, radiotherapy trips, medical appointments.
  4. Take her ironing to do for her.
  5. When she is suffering from the chemo side effects, offer help in the home such as putting on the washing, emptying the dishwasher and hoovering.
  6. Offer to pick up groceries, toiletries, prescriptions and anything else which saves her from making a trip to the shops.
  7. Offer to take her to any medical appointments and take notes for her.
  8. If you live close by then you could offer to be a night-time emergency contact so that if she needs to go to hospital you can either be the person she contacts to take her, or you can babysit her children in the middle of the night.
  9. Offer help and make it clear that you genuinely mean it (even after the tenth time that she declines it; she might accept it on your 11th offer).

Emotional support to to help someone going through breast cancer

  1. Try to be there for her every step of the way. It is a long old slog getting through the treatment so don’t let your support subside – keep it up for the entire journey (including after all the treatment has ended which is an emotionally tough time).
  2. Be thoughtful throughout all her treatment. Remember that what she is going through is huge. It is a big deal. It is the biggest deal.
  3. Visit her. Not just when she is diagnosed or has had surgery, but regularly throughout her treatment. She will appreciate the company and the distraction.
  4. Take your cues from her as to how much she wants to see people and talk to people. Don’t assume she wants to be left alone. But don’t assume she needs company. She will need both at different times.
  5. Keep in touch – send cards, notes, letters, emails or texts without expecting a reply. If you write “no need to respond” she knows that she doesn’t have to reply. Texts were my little life lines during my dark days. There was nothing nicer than getting a text saying “Hi Sara, just checking in to see how you are doing. No need to reply. Sending you love and hugs xx” whilst I was hiding under the duvet in tears feeling the worst I have ever felt. There you go. Bish bash bosh. All done within 30 seconds. You could even send that whilst sitting on the loo. There is absolutely no excuse not to send that sort of text regularly throughout their treatment. You could even set yourself a calendar reminder if you are so busy that you are worried you will forget. As I say. No excuses.
  6. Be flexible and understand if she cancels a visit last minute. This will probably happen at some point.
  7. Respect her privacy.
  8. Don’t write her off. Treat her much the same as before she got cancer so if you are arranging a social event then include her in the invitation. She needs to know that she hasn’t been forgotten.
  9. If she is up to seeing a few friends then take lunch to her house with a couple of friends (without being overwhelming).
  10. Take afternoon tea (and friends) to her. One of the nicest things that one of my friends did for me was to bring homemade scones, clotted cream and jam over for us to eat together.
  11. Offer to go for walks with her. Pick her up and drive her to a nice place for walking.
  12. Offer to take her out for lunch or a coffee.
  13. Remember her: send a quick hello text. Perhaps set a calendar alert on your phone to remember to text every few days or so. Getting through tough treatment can be very lonely knowing that everyone else is just carrying on with their normal lives.
  14. Listen to her when she needs to talk.
  15. Be a shoulder for her to cry on if she needs it.
  16. Celebrate the milestones with her – if she is up to it then organise something special when she finishes chemo, has had her surgery or finishes radiotherapy. (But be prepared for her to cancel at the last minute if she isn’t feeling well enough).
  17. Give gifts to her children and partner. They need support too.
  18. If you arrange to visit her, then do. Try not to cancel (unless of course it is impossible). Visits from friends and family are so important and mean so much.
  19. Going through chemo is totally demoralising when it comes to our looks so if you are any good with make up you could offer to come over and give her a makeover, do her nails, help with scarf tying and generally help her to feel good about her looks (look at the section on make up on the website – because there are some precautions she needs to take with nail care and makeup).
  20. Understand that throughout chemo and beyond, she will have very low immunity and won’t be able to come into contact with people who are poorly: don’t visit if you or your children/husband is ill so you don’t risk passing on bugs.
  21. And remember that although you won’t know what she is going through unless you have been through it, open your mind and try to understand it. She has a life threatening disease and she is going through harsh treatment which will make her feel physically awful and an emotional wreak. She isn’t just lounging around on the sofa and having a bit of a rest.

The information and content provided on this page are intended for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice.

Updated August 2021


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