Being diagnosed with cancer is not only hard for the person facing the disease, but it’s also hard for family and friends. If you have a friend with breast cancer or another cancer, you may feel like you don’t know what to say, and you worry you’ll say the wrong thing, or come off sounding pat. As best you can, lay down those worries and reach out. Your friend doesn’t need solutions, just someone to be there with kind words and acts of support.
Hearing the statement ‘You’ve got cancer’ just may be the hardest words someone could ever hear. Your friend will at first feel disbelief, wonder ‘Why me?’ and worry about the long term consequences of the diagnosis. Remember, your friend doesn’t need you to provide answers or research solutions. Rather, simply be a sounding board and show that you care.
Offer to go to doctor appointments with your friend to take notes and ask good questions. A cancer diagnoses leaves people overwhelmed with a lot of questions, emotions and choices to make, and it can be hard to think of everything to ask, or to stay present and really hear what’s being said. Try not to offer advice on what care choices your friend should make. Cancer treatment decisions are very personal and often have pros and cons on both sides.
One of the first steps in treating breast cancer is often having surgery to remove the cancer, which may leave your friend feeling weak, tired and unable to lift heavy items or drive for a few weeks to a month, especially after a mastectomy. Help set up a plan for helping after the surgery. Also, keep in mind that with breast cancer a second surgery might be down the road for reconstruction, providing another chance to help.
“Typically, any time someone is recovering from surgery, there is some pain and weakness, so helping prepare meals beforehand, and arranging to do housecleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, taking care of pets and running errands is really helpful,” said Dr. Jessica Swanson, General Surgeon at Prowers Medical Center.
Since your friend might not be able to drive, you can help with simple things, like picking up a prescription from the pharmacy, driving kids to sports practice, shopping, and getting to and from appointments. If your friend had surgery out-of-town you can help by house sitting, taking care of pets, picking up newspapers, mowing the lawn or shoveling the driveway.
When offering to help, consider telling rather than asking, because some people have a hard time asking for help. For example, say, ‘I’m stopping by around 2 pm today to shovel your walk and I’ll walk the dog afterwards.” If you get resistance, simply say, ‘I want to do something to make this easier for you, so I’m happy to do it. Are there other things I can do while I’m there?” Finally, don’t forget to offer breaks and relief.
“We try to be very serious and thoughtful but sometimes our loved ones with cancer simply need a break and to just have fun, so go do something you enjoy doing together. If it’s shopping and your friend isn’t up for it, do online shopping. Have fun picking out prosthetics—lingerie and undergarments after breast cancer surgery, or fashionable headwear and wraps after chemotherapy. People just need to feel pampered and loved, so little things matter—massages if the doctor has approved, pedicures, getting coffee, taking walks or simply spending time outdoors on a nice day really helps,” Dr. Swanson concludes.
To learn more about breast cancer surgery services at Prowers Medical Center, call the Specialty Clinic at 719-336-7005. Dr. Jessica Swanson performs breast cancer surgery in Lamar.