By Rebecca Pine
It can be difficult to know what to say when someone you know is going through breast cancer. Here are some tips to help you show support for a friend or loved one who has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer.
- Steer clear of stories of “aunt so-and-so” who had breast cancer and the trials she went through or how she died… Believe it or not, it’s a common reaction when someone is diagnosed, for people to share stories about others they know who have been through the experience. Before you share, ask yourself if the story has anything helpful to provide the patient.
- Make specific offers to help. Instead of saying, “Call me if you need anything,” you might want to consider, “I’m heading to the grocery store later—what can I drop off for you on the way home?” Or ask, “What can I do to help?” Going through a serious illness, such as breast cancer, makes it difficult for patients to reach out.
- Stay away from phrases like: “It’s a good thing you got an easy cancer!” There is a common misconception that breast cancer is easier to deal with than other types of cancer. The fact is there is no “easy” cancer. Even early stage breast cancer will present challenges, risks, and fears that most people never consider unless they have had close contact with someone who has been through the experience firsthand.
- Breast cancer is not a “free boob job.” Because reconstructive surgery is an option for many who are diagnosed with breast cancer, sometimes well-meaning people think that reconstructed breasts are equal to natural breasts. Not everyone who goes through breast cancer chooses or is a candidate for reconstruction. The truth is, whether or not a breast cancer patient has reconstructive surgery, the loss of breast tissue is a difficult process to go through, emotionally as well as physically.
- Try not to make assumptions. Sometimes people get the idea that their friend or family member needs to get out of the house or do something specific in order to feel better. It’s far more helpful to ask what their wants and needs are and not make assumptions.
- Don’t ask: “Do you know what caused your breast cancer?” There are a myriad of contributing factors to a diagnosis of breast cancer, most of which are outside the patient’s scope of control. Breast cancer rates are on the rise, affecting 1 in 8 women in the U.S.
- Don’t expect them to be the same person. A cancer diagnosis is a major turning point in someone’s life. Their autonomic nervous system is regularly in high gear…think “fight or flight” responses. This is not the time to expect the patient to manage all the tasks they typically do, let alone take on additional responsibilities. Do not take anything personally if they are not themselves. Allow them to focus on their healing process and the steps they need to take for their health and well-being.
- Just listen. It’s natural to want to jump in and try to fix things when someone we care about is going through a hard time. More often than not, however, someone going through breast cancer wants to connect and feel heard. Allowing them to share freely can be a tremendous gift.
- It’s ok if you don’t know what to say! You can let your friend or family member know you are thinking of them and that you are sorry they are going through this. Show your support and provide a safe space for them to talk.
REBECCA PINE supports individuals in the process of healing inner emotional scars. She is a writer, workshop facilitator, and speaker. She has been featured in the NY Times, on BBC Radio, and The Today Show. Rebecca is co-founder of The Breast and the Sea, a written and photographic project empowering breast cancer survivors. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, Rebecca developed an intimate understanding about losses related to cancer and beyond. Rebecca facilitates the Creative Expression Support Series for breast cancer survivors and patients that meets monthly at Westmed.
About the Creative Expression Series for Breast Cancer Survivors at Westmed:
At Westmed, the Creative Expression Workshop Series for Breast Cancer Survivors provides a supportive environment where participants can discuss the ways breast cancer affects a woman’s emotional landscape, physical appearance and sense of femininity. Through art and nature, the sessions will focus on projects such as journaling, collage work, painting and more. This safe space allows participants to also share their own personal stories with their peers.
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