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How to support a loved one with breast cancer

Mind, Together inspired, 2018

When someone we love has breast cancer, it’s easy to feel helpless. Knowing what to say or do is hard, and not being able to look into the future is scary. But supporting a loved one with cancer helps their physical and emotional well being—it’s crucial that you learn how to be there for them during this time.

Studies have shown that active support makes a real difference to people with cancer. It helps them adjust to changes in their lives and have a more positive outlook. People who have the strong backing of loved ones report a better quality of life.

8 tips for helping your loved one with breast cancer

Your loved one needs you. Whether you’re a friend, relative or their partner, there are many ways you can offer support.

  1. Call or write. This is especially important for friends and relatives who don’t live nearby. Something as simple as a call or text can remind your loved one that they aren’t alone. Send brief notes or texts or make short calls. Share silly cards, photos, kids’ drawings or anything that might brighten your loved one’s day. Ask questions and return messages right away.
  2. Visit. Cancer can be isolating. It’s important to spend time with your loved one. Understand if a scheduled visit isn’t going to work, or if you’re asked to leave early. Shorter visits are often better. And although your friend might not feel like talking, he or she might still want your company. Be attuned and adapt accordingly.
  3. Be understanding. Listen to your loved one and provide emotional support through your presence and touch. Be flexible, and understand that sometimes pride or the need for independence can impact a person’s ability to accept help when it’s offered.
  4. Give useful presents. The occasional gift can be a welcome distraction from everything else your loved one is dealing with. Choose small, practical things that are useful during treatment—such as pajamas, stamped postcards or a heating pad. But don’t overlook items that will bring joy. A funny movie, silly socks or favorite foods can be very welcome too.
  5. Help them feel good. Women with breast cancer often feel self-conscious about the physical changes caused by treatment. Encourage your loved one to explore solutions for coping.
  6. Respect their decisions. Cancer treatment is full of choices. No matter your role, remember that the person with cancer makes the decisions. This includes deciding how friends and family can help.
  7. Be present for medical matters. Volunteer to take your loved one to medical appointments. Having someone else in the room to take notes can be valuable. It might also be useful for someone else to keep a calendar of appointments. Ask your loved one how you can make their life easier.
  8. Take care of yourself. This is especially important if you’re the spouse or caregiver. No matter how much you love them—being the main pillar of support for someone with breast cancer can be emotionally taxing. Plan a few moments each day to do something for yourself. It might be as simple as walking around the block. Other ideas like joining a support group or seeing a professional counselor can be invaluable for maintaining your mental health during this time.

Treating cancer is a team effort. It takes medical experts and a caring support team. Make sure you have all the information you need.