A breast cancer diagnosis is one that will literally turn a woman’s (or man’s!) life upside down. Suddenly, they find themselves not understanding what is going on within their own body, attending appointments with specialists they have never heard of, and at places they have likely never been. Abruptly, they are questioning their futures, prognosis, family’s well-being, all while managing overwhelming emotions.
When someone who has been diagnosed does finally become comfortable sharing the news, it is often difficult for friends and family to find the right response. Should you cry? Be stoic and show support? Tell a story about a person you knew with the same diagnosis? What could possibly make your loved one feel supported during this challenging time, without scaring her or making her feel as if she should do this alone?
Learning about Breast Cancer
One of the best things that can be done for a loved one or her caregiver is to learn about the specific diagnosis. Take the time to research and understand her diagnosis and all its components. Your newly diagnosed loved one likely does not want to rehash the same information with all her family and friends; she may find this process overwhelming and exhausting. Having a basic understanding of the diagnosis and what to expect over the next few months tells the person you support her and have taken the time to understand how her life will change in the foreseeable future.
We recommend starting with some of our resources such as the American Cancer Society’s Caregivers and Family section or CancerCare’s Caregiving Tips. Additionally, explore some of our recommendations for specific books or blogs regarding breast cancer, survivor stories, and loved ones' perspectives.
You will want to note anything unique about your loved one’s diagnosis, recommendations for treatments or places for treatment, and side effects of the treatments. Again, understanding what your loved one is about to go through is an underestimated way to show your love and support.
If you notice a side effect of an upcoming treatments is fatigue and you know she has young children to care for at home, a great way to show support might be to order dinner or bring over a homemade meal for their family one night. Offer to watch the children or take them on an outing. Though your loved one may be reluctant to accept any help, especially at the beginning, the kind offers show you care and want to provide support in any way you can.
Get Involved with the Breast Cancer Community
Beyond the scope of directly supporting your loved one, show her and other survivors support and hope by getting involved with the breast cancer community. Start your own #wearitpink fundraiser day by reaching out to the Wear It Pink organization or coordinate a Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event through the American Cancer Society. Understanding the impact of a breast cancer diagnosis and identifying ways to raise awareness and funds toward a cure is a simple yet effective way of showing your love and support for your friend or family member.
Many who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer wish to reach out to others who are experiencing similar treatments or simply understand how others cope. This seeking community is imperative for their emotional wellbeing and should be encouraged and highly supported!
Support Emotional Health and Wellbeing
Anyone who has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer has a difficult road ahead. It may take a significant amount of time for them to understand their own diagnosis and want to share it with their friends and family. Even if they do not want to talk about their diagnosis, which is perfectly understandable and normal, showing support is crucial to their mental health and overall wellbeing. It can be easy for them to want to hole up and be on their own for awhile after receiving the news of their diagnosis, but this is ill advised. There are significant psychological impacts that may stem from a breast cancer diagnosis, such as depression and anxiety, and it is important as a loved one to observe from afar and try to instill hope and happiness in the place of feelings of loneliness or isolation.
By the same token, recommending reputable therapists or therapy groups for them in a noninvasive manner shows you care enough about their mental health and wellbeing to obtain this information for them. Give them time and space if initially desired, then nonchalantly bring the recommendations up in conversation or tuck them in their notebook on a small slip of paper during coffee after some time has passed – they may thank you later! Have a quick but pointed conversation about staying positive and connected to their community to reinforce the importance of their mental stability and wellbeing during an incredibly challenging time.
Final Thoughts on Supporting Your Loved One
Understand that a breast cancer diagnosis is not the end of the world, but it can feel like the beginning of the end to your family member or loved one. Initial feelings on their diagnosis may include significant anxiety, depression, isolation, fear, or anger. Others may have no initial feelings on their diagnosis, feel numb, or feel hopeful that they can overcome this battle. Whatever the case may be for your loved one, you know them best and should reach out to immediately offer your verbal support and love. Over time, utilize some of the strategies laid out here to further show your support throughout their trying time. You will likely form a stronger bond with your loved one as you encourage and aid them through their diagnosis and treatment journey, which will be emotionally fulfilling for you both!