What to Say to Someone with Breast Cancer
It’s estimated that more than 250,000 women in America will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer this year. One in eight women will get diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime. If you happen to be a friend or family member of one of those women, it can be hard to know what to do or say. You want to comfort them and give them strength, but might worry that you’ll say the wrong thing or put your foot in your mouth. To give you some guidance, here is a list of things to keep in mind when you find yourself searching for the right words:
- Make sure they know they aren’t fighting this alone. Your instinct might be to say something like: “You will get through this.” Instead, tweak it so you say: “We will get through this together; you are not alone in this fight.” Using ‘we’ shows your loved one that you’ll be there to provide support and help. The worst feeling in the world is to feel alone, so do everything you can to be a support system for that person, whether that means going to appointments with them, listening to their fears or simply spending time together.
- Be interested in your loved one’s treatment. Instead of asking a vague question about how they’re doing, try to get more involved by asking about their specific experience. Bring up the timeline of appointments, order of procedures or expected side effects—this shows you really care and want to be as involved as they’ll let you.
- Take the initiative. Instead of asking them to tell you what help they might need, come up with some offers. Ask if you can help with laundry, babysit the kids so they get some alone time, or check in on an elderly parent. Being more specific might make it easier for your loved one to say yes.
- Leave out the comparison stories. It’s common to bring up a story about someone else you know who had breast cancer in an effort to comfort your loved one, but try not to do that. Stories about others with cancer might make your loved one more anxious or nervous than they already are and no two cases are the same.
- Feel free to do nothing sometimes. This doesn’t mean you should avoid your loved one and pretend like everything is fine, but sometimes words aren’t necessary. Be physically there, but don’t always feel the need to bring up what’s going on. Sometimes it’s enough to just offer a hand to hold, give your loved one a hug or sit on the sofa and watch a movie together.
It’s important to listen to cues that your loved one may give regarding what they do and don’t want to talk about. Don’t force them to discuss something they’d rather not and try to treat them the way you always have—they’re still the same person they were before the diagnosis.
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