When someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer, your support is important; show you care, and let them know you're willing to help when they need it most.
These are some of the things that breast cancer patients have told us have helped them through their treatment and recovery.
Ask "when", rather than "what"
Many women find it hard to ask for help. Make it easier for your friend or relative to accept your help by asking “when?” instead of “what?” For instance: “When can I do your grocery shopping?” Helpful acts can often ease the anxiety of finding the right words of support when facing a loved one’s cancer diagnosis.
Keep in touch and listen
Keep in regular contact, by sending a card, making a phone call or visiting. People with cancer often have many visitors when they are first diagnosed, but cancer treatment can be lengthy. You may feel awkward and don’t know what to say – there are no ‘right’ words. Just keep in touch as time passes.
Each woman with breast cancer has different needs. Some want to talk about their cancer, others welcome a diversion. Pay attention to her cues. And don’t be afraid to ask her what she wants. Offer to help out with any community roles to remove the stress of having to step back for a while.
Organise a community roster
Firstly, ask whether she’d like additional assistance, and how. Help may take the form of a meal, transport, shopping or childcare roster where many people pitch in to provide support at key times. Here’s an online rostering tool to help with setting up meal trains and more!
Help with childcare
Treatment for breast cancer can be time-consuming and tiring. At the same time, the children may have greater needs than ever before. Offer to look after her children– after school, overnight or on the weekend.
Help with meals
In addition to the tiredness your friend may be experiencing, nausea can make cooking and eating even more of a chore. A ready-made or freezable meal will save her tremendous time and effort — and you’ll also be helping by ensuring she and the family are eating properly.
Take them to appointments and stay with them
Getting to and from doctors’ appointments and treatments can be difficult. Some cancer treatments are hard on the body, making driving stressful. There’s also a lot of information to take in at specialist appointments. If you’re there as a support person or whānau member, then you can help by being supportive and listening to the information to help her take everything in. Alternatively, you could gift them some taxi vouchers to help them get to and from treatment.
Support and listen to her partner
While most of the focus is on supporting the patient, her closest confidant is often her partner. This person may also be going through a difficult time. You can help them in their struggle to cope by letting them know they are appreciated and by listening to their concerns.
Help with finances
Personal costs often increase when women start their treatment. Things like hospital car parking, petrol, away-from-home accommodation and childcare costs need managing. If the household budget is already tight, then this can add to the family’s stress. Often women with breast cancer have to step back from paid work as they may feel unwell, tired or have to travel for treatment.
If appropriate, ask your friend how best you can help. Consider running a local fundraiser through your local school, church or community group. Have a breakfast or afternoon tea at your house or workplace and request donations for your guest of honor. Ask her workplace to consider running an event on her behalf. By assisting in this way, you can help relieve some of the pressure and anxiety over this time.