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My friend has breast cancer - how can I help?

August 01, 2014
My friend has breast cancer - how can I help?

The news that your friend has breast cancer has probably come as a shock to you. You want to help but don’t know how.

Friends can be a wonderful source of emotional and practical support during the breast cancer journey. Sometimes acquaintances become good friends – but sadly, close friends sometimes fall away, perhaps because they don’t know what to say or how to help.

It’s impossible to know for sure what will or won’t help your friend. But Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) have asked a women who have had breast cancer to share the things they found helpful and unhelpful.

Who is BCNA?

In their brochure, Helping a friend or colleague with breast cancer, BCNA explain it is important to deal with your own feelings first. Your friend doesn’t need to hear about your own fears or worries – she’ll be having enough of your own.

Take your lead from your friend. Listen for cues from her and don’t be afraid to make suggestion.

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Emotional help * Be available to listen - let you friend know you're available to come over when needed. Cry with her, laugh with her, listen to her. Often there is no need for words. * Often women with breast cancer lie awake at night worrying. If you don't mind taking her calls in the middle of the night, let her know. * Let her know you care - it's difficult to ask for help, but that doesn't mean your home-made meal won't be very gratefully accepted. * Phone, but be aware that at times even talking may be tiring. Try not to call at meal times, too early or too late in the day, and check to see whether she is being inundated with calls from other people. * Visit, but phone first to check it’s okay. Don't visit with sick or noisy children, or if you're sick yourself.

Practical help * Prepare nutritious home-cooked meals, soups, biscuits and cakes that can be frozen and used when needed. * Help with housework, gardening or looking after pets. For several weeks after surgery, hanging out washing, vacuuming and ironing may be physically difficult. * Take her shopping and carry packages, or take a list and do it for her. * Offer to drive her to medical treatments or appointments. Perhaps work out a roster of family and friends to cover each visit. * Ask what else she would like you to do and listen for clues.

Things that won't help: * Don't ask her about the latest cure or treatment you've heard about. * Don't burden her with your fears or worries. * Definitely don't tell her any horror stories about other people with cancer. * Don't give up on her or stop ringing or visiting - stick with her through the highs and lows. * Don't tell her how she should be changing her lifestyle or diet. It may be hard enough for her to get out of bed in the morning. * Don't tell her to 'be positive'. That may make it hard for her to talk to you about how she really feels.

Don't be too afraid that you won't know what to say or do, just be yourself. Think about what you would want if you were in her shoes. And if you aren’t sure, simply ask or offer.

Download Breast Cancer Network Australia’s (BCNA) free brochure Helping a friend or colleague with breast cancer here

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