Guest Post: Help me, help her: how can I help my friend who has breast cancer?
The amazing Sara from Ticking Off Breast Cancer is sharing her wisdom today about how to help a friend with cancer:
When I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 42, I was the first person I knew to get cancer. Yes, I had previously come across cancer: a great uncle, a parent of a friend, a teacher at school, but nobody I knew well had ever had cancer. So, when I was diagnosed and went through my treatment, I had no expectations of how my friends and family would help and support me. And they were amazing.
I often thought to myself that had the shoe been on the other foot, I would not have had a clue what to do for a friend with cancer. So, after completing my treatment, I put together a list of things that someone could do to help their friend or family member who is going through cancer treatment for my website.
Here are my suggestions:
Practical help is the biggest gift you can give your friend or family member while they go through surgery, chemo or radiotherapy. When you offer help make it clear that you genuinely mean it (even after the tenth time that she declines it; she might accept it on your 11th offer).
1. A few ideas are:
Help with childcare and school run
Offer help in the home such as putting on the washing, emptying the dishwasher and hoovering.
Offer to pick up groceries, toiletries and prescriptions.
Offer to take her to any medical appointments and take notes.
2. Offer to be a night-time emergency contact so that if she needs to go to hospital you can either be the person she contacts to take her, or you can babysit her children in the middle of the night.
EMOTIONAL SUPPORT TO OFFER
1. Try to be there for her every step of the way both during and after treatment.
2. Be thoughtful. Remember that what she is going through is huge.
3. Visit her regularly throughout her treatment.
4. Take your cues from her as to how much she wants to see people and talk to people. Don't assume she wants to be left alone. But don't assume she needs company.
5. Keep in touch - send cards, notes, letters, emails or texts without expecting a reply.
6. Be flexible and understand if she cancels a visit last minute.
7. Respect her privacy.
8. Don't write her off. Treat her much the same as before she got cancer so if you are arranging a social event then include her in the invitation.
9. Take lunch or afternoon tea to her house with a couple of friends.
10. Offer to go for walks with her. Pick her up and drive her to a nice place for walking.
11. Offer to take her out for lunch or a coffee.
12. Remember her: send a quick hello text. Perhaps set a calendar alert on your phone to remember to text every few days or so.
13. Listen to her when she needs to talk.
14. Be a shoulder for her to cry on if she needs it.
15. Celebrate the milestones with her - if she is up to it then organise something special when she finishes chemo, has had her surgery or finishes radiotherapy.
16. Support her children and husband.
17. If you arrange to visit her, then do. Try not to cancel.
18. If you are any good with make-up you could offer to give her a makeover, do her nails, help with scarf tying and generally help her to feel good about her looks.
BUY A GIFT
Gifts are in no way expected - she will probably appreciate your time and help more than a gift, but there is no doubt about it: a gift is a lovely way of showing that you care and would most definitely be gratefully received. Maybe you could think about sending a little gift at various points throughout her treatment when she could do with something to lift her spirits (and not just after diagnosis). Don't always expect a thank you note or message – she’s got other things on her mind.
Sara is the founder of www.tickingoffbreastcancer.com, a website dedicated to helping people through their breast cancer treatment from diagnosis to living life to the full once treatment ends. Aged 42 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Sara decided to set up the website to support those who do not know which way to turn for help after receiving a breast cancer diagnosis; those who are overwhelmed by the breast cancer resources online; those who may be scared to go online for fear of what they might find; and those just looking for a comfortable, safe, calm place to turn for help. The website provides practical advice for each step of the way, together with many links and signposts to other online resources. There is also plenty of advice for friends and family members on how to help and provide support. Follow her on FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram.