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Supporting Loved Ones with Breast Cancer: How to Offer Meaningful Help

Updated: Mar 8

Supporting Loved Ones with Breast Cancer: How to Offer Meaningful Help

Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis can be a daunting and challenging experience, not just for the individual diagnosed but also for their family and friends. Knowing how to offer meaningful support to a loved one facing breast cancer is crucial in helping them navigate through this difficult journey with comfort and resilience, but remember to take care of your mental and physical health, too.

This article aims to provide insights into supporting loved ones facing breast cancer, offering practical tips, emotional guidance, and ways to be a pillar of support during this challenging time.

Understanding Emotional Support Needs

Emotional support is vital for someone facing breast cancer. Receiving a cancer diagnosis can be extremely isolating and anxiety-inducing. Here are ways to provide meaningful emotional support:

  • Practice active listening: Be present and attentive when your loved one wants to talk. Let them share their feelings without judgment or interruption. Focus on listening to understand, rather than to respond.

  • Provide empathy and validation: Validate their emotions, fears, and concerns. Express empathy by acknowledging their feelings and offering reassurance.

  • Offer encouragement: Provide words of encouragement and support. Simple phrases like “I’m here for you” or “You’re not alone in this” can make a significant impact.

  • Respect their coping mechanisms: Everyone copes differently. Respect their coping mechanisms, whether they prefer solitude or seek company.

  • Try to stay away from “toxic positivity”: Don’t confuse this with losing hope! However, toxic positivity can reject difficult emotions and invalidate some normal fears, minimizing their experience, and potentially lead to feelings of shame.

Providing Practical Support

Assisting in practical support can greatly alleviate certain burdens for someone experiencing breast cancer. Some may find it difficult to ask for help. You can support them by offering to take on tasks you know can be done by others, such as:

  • Help with daily chores: Offer to assist with household chores, grocery shopping, meal preparation, or childcare responsibilities.

  • Accompany them to appointments: Attend doctor’s appointments or treatment sessions if your loved one desires company or needs assistance. Consider creating a shared calendar to keep track of appointments. 

  • Help with financial tasks: Offer to help organize bills or seek financial aid resources to alleviate their financial burden during treatment.

  • Help them with research and information: Help gather information on treatment options, support groups, or helpful resources that might benefit them.

  • Offer to receive access to their medical information: Whether you are near or far, the information overload and medical jargon can be difficult for you and your loved one to process. If you are caring for your loved one from afar, you may not be able to attend every appointment, and important information can get lost in translation. If your loved one is comfortable with it, allowing you access to their medical information can help with better communication between you and their doctors. 

Respecting Boundaries and Privacy

Respecting boundaries is crucial when supporting a loved one with breast cancer. Sometimes adjusting to needing and receiving help can be overwhelming. It is important to remember that although they are becoming more dependent on you, they also crave a level of normalcy. Here are some ways to help with this:

  • Respect their privacy: Be understanding if they choose not to discuss certain details about their diagnosis or treatment.

  • Ask before offering advice: Always ask before giving advice or suggestions. Sometimes they might just need someone to listen rather than offer solutions.

  • Be mindful of physical contact: Respect their physical boundaries. Some individuals may feel uncomfortable with physical affection or hugs.

Encouraging Self-Care and Well-Being

Encouraging self-care is essential for their overall well-being. Here are some approaches to consider:

  • Promote healthy habits: Encourage them to prioritize self-care through activities like meditation, gentle exercises, or hobbies they enjoy. If you know their favorite hobby they can partake in, offer to participate with them.

  • Offer to accompany them: Accompany them on walks, yoga sessions, or activities they find relaxing and rejuvenating. Make sure to keep their current health status in mind when doing so. Asking them to do things they aren’t physically able to do at the moment can sometimes lead to discouragement.

  • Express gratitude: Express gratitude for their strength and courage, reminding them that you are inspired by their resilience.

Remember YOUR Self-Care and Well-Being, Too

Caring for a loved one while they are experiencing cancer and witnessing their good and bad days can be emotionally and physically draining. In order to be a good support for them, you need to take care of yourself, too. 

  • Make sure you are eating and sleeping well, engaging in hobbies you enjoy, and taking care of your mental and physical health to avoid burnout so that you have the energy to support them. 

  • Consider activities like therapy, meditation and journaling to work through your emotions.

  • Find someone that’s a good listener you can vent to about what you are going through.

  • If it’s too much for you to fill people in on how your loved one is doing when they ask, remember that you do not have to tell anyone anything. You can find an ambiguous phrase like “we’re taking it day by day” to use instead of delving into details.

It is a tough experience for both the person with cancer and their loved ones. Make sure you give yourself space to feel what comes up for you during this time. While caring for your loved one, it is vital to care for yourself, too.

The Bottom Line: Being a Pillar of Support

Supporting a loved one through breast cancer requires empathy, patience, and understanding. Your willingness to listen, offer practical help, and respect their boundaries can make a significant difference in their experience. Remember, being a supportive presence is often the most valuable form of assistance.

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Thursday Night Thrivers:

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August 5, 6:00 p.m. ET


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Surviving Breast Cancer provides breast cancer support, events, and webinars at no cost to you! Whether you are looking to gain more knowledge on a particular topic or meet up with other breast cancer survivors, we have something for everyone. 


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