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Tatler - October 2013
How to Support Someone through Breast Cancer
Hearing the news that someone you love has just been diagnosed with breast cancer is devastating. It’s challenging to know what to say or how to act around them but you do know that you’re going to offer them your full support, and that is critical in their journey to recovery.
Each person’s cancer experience is unique and how they react differs from person to person so even if you know someone who has previously been through the same journey, try not to assume that you know how they’re going to feel. Ensure that you listen to their diagnosis and understand the treatment involved, a lumpectomy or mastectomy operation is common as is a cycle of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment however a bespoke plan is given to each patient depending on their diagnosis.
You can offer your support in many ways whether you’re a family member or close friend and it’s important to ensure that her support network of people keep in contact with each other to share the responsibilities. Here are a few quick tips on how you can offer support and prepare for the treatment involved:
If you’re one of the first to hear about her diagnosis, offer to pass on the news and tell people, call her extended family members and closest friends and ask them to pass the news on sympathetically and discretely. It’s important for someone to be the main contact for any questions that they have so that she isn’t overwhelmed with lots of calls, texts or emails with concerned people. It’s also important to ask for no one to post anything onto social media sites, as not everyone would have been informed at this early stage.
It’s usually harder for other people to mention the cancer when they see her, which could make her feel awkward by them not mentioning it at all. So tell people to treat her as normal as they can and to ask her questions, it’s happening, so there’s no point avoiding the conversation.
Recommend that she sets up a new email account (Gmail, Hotmail etc..) so friends and family members can send good wishes and news, this way the content is kept separately from her usual day-to-day emails and she can read them as and when she feels up to it. Or why not set up a photo-sharing account (Dropbox, instagram) to share with friends and family and ask them upload photographs to keep her up to date with their news.
Nausea, mouth ulcers and unusual taste sensations are common side effects with chemotherapy; sometimes even drinking water can be unpleasant. To ensure she that she keeps hydrated, make sure she has a good supply of straws so the fluid can bypass her taste buds. Another great tip is to make plain water ice-lollies out of moulds, this will help keep her hydrated whist the ice numbs the inside of her mouth, helping with any sore or dry sensations.
Hygiene is crucial during chemotherapy as the risk of infection is very high therefore if you’re her partner or live-in support, make sure the house is fully santised. If she lives alone then this could be something could make you feel useful by either arranging for cleaning services or helping in her cleaning routine yourself. Also, anti-bacterial fluid is useful to have so that she can santise her hands, and yours, regularly.
Exercise and fresh air plays a large part in her recovery as well as her mental state. Start a routine for a gentle walk every morning to start her day and find somewhere nice locally e.g. a park, lake, or a country house. Join a class together for light exercise; attending a yoga class on a weekly basis could be something you could do together and keep you, and her, motivated to go.
Cancer treatment works in cycles whether its chemotherapy, radiotherapy or just taking medication, and the routine can become monotonous. Why not plan a holiday or weekend break or keep an eye out for any concerts or theatre production that you think she’d like to attend in the forthcoming months. This will give her something to focus on and look forward to and as the date comes closer, so will the end of her treatment cycle.
Try setting a task which is fun and you could do together i.e. finally getting around to organising old photographs into an album and spending time asking her about the pictures and the people in them. Or finding recipes found on scraps of paper or magazine cuttings and writing them into cookery journal. If she doesn’t know how to knit, then teach her (If you know how) or watch tutorials online and learn together. Focus on making something that will take time but will make her feel satisfied on achieving. Make sure its something easy to create like a plain coloured scarf or blanket.
Remember, ‘Get Well Soon’ cards are usually for people who are on the road the recovery and as cancer is unpredictable and no-one can guarantee survival, even if the prognosis is good, this type of card could upset her instead of making her feel better. If you do want to send her a card, how about a ‘Thinking of You’ or a ‘blank’ card with positive words of encouragement and honesty? Say that cancer is hard, tell her that you’re there for her whenever she’d need you to be etc. and if you are stuck for words, something simple like ‘I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you’ is enough. If you want to send her a gift; magazine subscriptions, DVD box sets and books are a good idea, especially comedy as that do say laughter is the best medicine!
There are a number of charities and groups that are there to support you so take advantage of them. It’s a chance to meet new people in a similar situation during this difficult time and I guarantee will become a huge support in your life a well as theirs.
Remember, positivity is key to her recovery!