Beyond the Pink Ribbon: Five Ways to Support Someone With Breast Cancer

October 2020

It’s news no one wants to hear: A friend, neighbor, or family member has breast cancer. Unfortunately, such distressing news is not uncommon given that breast cancer is the second most diagnosed cancer among American women after skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

When you discover that a friend or family member has breast cancer, you may not know how to respond. Fortunately, there are many ways you can help support someone with breast cancer, aside from well-wishes and a pink ribbon. Every act of support can make a real difference.

Here are five tangible ways you can show you care:

Become a cancer treatment buddy.

Chemotherapy treatments can mean long days in the hospital, so joining your friend or family member for appointments can help relieve boredom and stress. Find out what would help keep their mind off the treatment, from binge-watching the latest reality show or playing cards, to just being a reassuring face who will sit and hold their hand.

Providing companionship at doctor’s visits and helping to take notes and record information to review later also can be appreciated.

Start a meal train or other list for helpers.

Whether it’s taking over the soccer car-pool list, helping with yard work, or delivering healthy meals to the family, many people with breast cancer are reluctant to ask for help even if their circle would love to serve. Using an app or website (like Meal Train) allows friends and acquaintances to easily choose a task and make a real difference, and all of this can happen without your loved one having to ask explicitly for help. If you set up the site, have your friend provide details on requested help, and be sure to include as much information as you can, from food preferences to pickup times for soccer practice.

Communicate health updates with others.

Although questions on health updates are only asked out of concern, it still can be exhausting when asked to answer multiple questions about how treatment is progressing. If your loved one agrees, you can share health updates in whatever way your friend or loved one prefers, whether it’s just with close family and friends via an email chain, or via a much larger circle on social media or another dedicated platform like CaringBridge.

Just always be sure to get approval on every message before hitting “send” or “post.”

Provide social support.

Social support is key: One National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) study found that breast cancer patients with larger social networks had better outcomes. However, it’s more important to focus on the quality of social interaction, rather than the quantity. So, ask your loved one what kind of social support they would like. If they are too tired for visitors, they may prefer that you host a virtual phone call, or they might crave company in the mornings when the house is quiet and they would appreciate companionship.

Monitor your own breast cancer health.

This one isn’t just for your pal – it’s also for you. Taking care of your own health can be a way to show support for your loved one by proving you take the diagnosis seriously. Review current protocols for breast cancer screening, including whether  or not you need a mammogram and how to practice breast self-awareness. Then  check a website like the American Cancer Society to find out more about risk factors and ways that you can lower your risk.

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