When a friend or family member is diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s easy to feel helpless and uncertain about what to do to make her life a little bit easier. In the spirit of Breast Cancer Awareness month, we thought we’d honor women being treated for breast cancer by learning more about how best to support them through this disease. We asked women who have had breast cancer—plus one husband—what they craved and most appreciated (as well as a few things they did not appreciate) as they went through the breast cancer journey.
“Offer to do the little things, the tasks or gestures that are often overlooked, such as offering to drive the patient to an appointment or help out with chores at home.” –Susan Reif, author of For Family and Friends: 39 Things to Make a Cancer Patient Smile
“Tell your friend how beautiful she is. Losing your hair, gaining weight from steroids, losing a part or all of your breasts, and being too exhausted to put on makeup or wear anything but comfy clothes can wear on your self-esteem. Letting your loved one know that she remains beautiful despite outer changes can lift her spirits.” –Angil Tarach-Ritchey RN, GCM, author of Behind the Old Face: Aging in America and the Coming Elder Boom
“Items that kept me warm during chemo infusions such as blankets, warm socks and scarves.” –Crystal Brown Tatum, seven-year survivor of stage IIIA triple negative breast cancer
“After my double mastectomy a friend gave me gift certificates to have my hair washed and styled since I did not have the strength to do this and was in chest bandages for two weeks.” –Melanie Young, author of Getting Things Off My Chest: A Survivor’s Guide to Staying Fearless & Fabulous in the Face of Breast Cancer
“Buy her a journal, or a CD of calming music to listen to in hospital.” –Diana Raab, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey
“Following my wife’s mastectomy she received many wonderful expressions of care, but none that made a greater impression than a small basket of fruit sent by her co-workers. It wasn’t the fruit itself, however, so much as the staff photo that everyone had signed with well wishes and appreciation. This personal touch attached to a healthy gift certainly lifted my wife’s spirits but also made me realize that I wasn’t the only caregiver.” –Todd Outcalt, author of Husband’s Guide to Breast Cancer
“Dinners easily put together are nice. I really enjoyed from friends a lasagna or mac & cheese casserole that the family could enjoy.” –Haralee Weintraub, founder of Haralee, Cool Garments for Hot Women
“People that could sit with me during chemo or visit briefly. Being on the chemo ward for 6 hours was depressing by myself.” –Crystal Brown Tatum
“Be your family member/friend’s journey partner, meaning you take her to all of her appointments, tests, surgeries and treatments to take notes, ask questions she may not have thought of, to advocate for, be companionship through long days of chemo or waiting in waiting rooms for appointments. Patients don’t remember everything said by physicians, nurses and others on the medical team. You will become her memory and advocate, the strength when she is exhausted and/or emotional. If one person can’t do this, gather a few people who can get together and plan out the calendar so someone can be the partner for each appointment and share a calendar on smartphones or through email so everyone is on track and the patient knows who is helping when.” –Angil Tarach-Ritchey
BONUS: A Few Don’ts
“A few things that people should know about giving gifts to breast cancer patients: Avoid giving anything with fragrance (creams, perfumes, etc.) because she will be sensitive to the smell and touch, and no massages, mani pedis, or other spa treatments without oncologist approval because we need to avoid anything that could cause infection or impact the system.” –Melanie Young
“Don’t stare at women’s breasts after they’ve had a mastectomy and reconstruction.” –Diana Raab
“I didn’t appreciate calls from family and friends who wanted to talk about their problems, which in the light of cancer seemed trivial.” –Haralee Weintraub
“Don’t research and tell her about any ‘cures’ for cancer. Everyone wants to help find what will cure or help someone with cancer because they feel helpless. When you have 10 different people telling you what you should do to feel better or be cured it’s more annoying than helpful.” –Angil Tarach-Ritchey
If you’ve had breast cancer or other type of illness, what did you find truly helpful? Let us know on the Mango Health Facebook page.