Updated: Jun 22
Breast cancer is a serious, life-altering disease affecting thousands yearly. When someone close to you receives a diagnosis, you may be unsure of what to say or how to act. Navigating the path of empathy, understanding, and support can be challenging. You don’t want to avoid speaking with your loved one about their experience, yet you don’t want to say or do the wrong thing. Continue reading to learn about breast cancer etiquette and suggestions on handling these complex interactions.
Understanding the Basics of Breast Cancer
Before considering etiquette, it’s crucial to educate yourself about the diagnosis and treatment options. This will help you better understand your loved one’s experience and communicate with them more effectively.
Breast cancer is a complex disease that originates in the breast tissue. It can develop in people of any gender, although it’s far more common in women. According to the American Cancer Society, it’s the most common cancer among women after skin cancer. It can manifest in different forms, including hormone receptor-positive, hormone receptor-negative, inflammatory, lobular, ductal, and more. Breast cancer stages range from ductal carcinoma in situ (stage zero, considered non-invasive) to metastatic (stage IV).
While the exact cause of breast cancer is unknown, there are well-established risk factors, including age, genetic mutations, dense breast tissue, and personal or family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
A breast cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming, sparking a wave of emotions from fear and anxiety to depression and anger. Recognizing this emotional turmoil is the first step toward empathetic communication.
Empathy Is Key: What to Say
When someone you love is diagnosed with breast cancer, you may be at a loss for words. Remember that practicing true empathy is vital. You can express your care and concern with statements like the following:
“I’m here for you,” affirms your support and willingness to stand by their side.
“It’s okay to be scared. Let’s face this together,” acknowledges their fear and validates their feelings.
“You’re not alone. I’m with you,” reassures them of your presence and support.
Avoid giving unsolicited advice, making light of their condition, or sharing stories about other people’s experiences with breast cancer. Each person’s experience is unique, and what worked for one person might not work for another.
Open Lines of Communication: What to Ask
Open and honest conversations are essential. When a loved one is diagnosed with breast cancer, one of the best things you can do is offer your support. Here are some questions you can ask to promote a discussion:
“How are you feeling today?” shows that you genuinely care about their well-being.
“What chores or errands can I take off your plate?” allows them to express their needs.
“Would you like to talk about it?” shows your willingness to listen, which can be incredibly therapeutic.
Offering Support: Actions Speak Louder
Your actions can demonstrate your support and help ease your loved one’s situation.
Offer Practical Help: Accompany them to appointments, help with chores, or provide meals.
Encourage Self-Care: Encourage them to engage in enjoyable activities that promote relaxation.
Stay Informed: Learn all you can about the treatment process to provide better support.
Each person’s needs are different, so adapt your support accordingly.
Don’t Minimize Their Experience
While it’s natural to want to ease a loved one’s pain, it’s important not to minimize their experience or feelings. For example, avoid saying things like, “At least it’s not worse” or “You’ll be fine.” Although these comments are well-intentioned, they can invalidate your loved one’s feelings.
Be Mindful of Your Language
When discussing breast cancer, be aware of the language you use. For example, avoid phrases that could be perceived as blame or judgment, like “You should have…” or “If only you had…” Also, refrain from using war metaphors like “fight” or “battle” unless your loved one uses them.
Count On Us for Information, Resources, and Support
These tips will help you show compassion, understanding, and respect. Practicing good cancer etiquette ensures your loved one feels heard, understood, and supported. It’s about being there for them in words and actions and helping them navigate this challenging path. If you have any questions about these tips, please contact us — we’re here for you!
Whether you’re newly diagnosed with breast cancer, are navigating survivorship, or are the loved one of someone experiencing breast cancer, you can count on SurvivingBreastCancer.org to keep you informed. We provide educational information to help you better understand symptoms, testing, treatment options, surgery, etc., and podcasts that feature professionals, advocates, and caregivers that share valuable information.
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