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How to support a friend fighting breast cancer

How to support a friend fighting breast cancer

1 in 8 women and 1 in 1,000 men will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of their lifetimes. In addition to traditional treatment, support from friends can can go a long way. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, we asked five survivors and friends of survivors to share the small acts that make a big difference. If you have a friend currently fighting, here’s how you can show your support:

Team up to take care of meals
Cooking healthy is tedious enough on a regular day — but when you’re going through cancer treatment, you could really use a helping hand…or a few of them. “A friend set up a Caring Bridge site and sent out to all my friends, family, and her network,” says Kaitlin Nordby, CEO and Founder of Well Woman. “I basically had meals for months! It was such a relief for my husband at the time and I, because he didn’t have to think about it and I could just heal.” Just keep in mind that your friend might not be up for frequent visitors when you’re setting up help, cautions Amy Byer Shainman, Executive Producer of Pink & Blue: Colors of Hereditary Cancer and founder of The BRCA Responder. “Have a designated drop off time and even a cooler in front of their house so your friend does not have to interact with anyone!”

Jump in with childcare too
Some time off from the kids can give your friend some much-needed time to rest, time to go to appointments, or just do regular life things. “If your friend has kids, you can also use a site like Lotsa Helping Hands to set up playdates where other friends can take her kids for a few hours,” Shainman recommends.

Treat her to self-care she might be skipping
For Nordby, it was blowouts. “My favorite was a friend set up for me to get a blowout every other week,” she says. “I couldn’t lift my arms, my husband was having to do my hair, so obviously I didn’t feel attractive or put together. I ended up looking forward to this every other week and would leave feeling beautiful and refreshed.” Shainman echoes the idea. “Send a female massage therapist her house. It’s nice to have your hands and feet rubbed (at home!) when you don’t feel well.”

Don’t forget about the normal stuff
It’s okay to talk about your weird boss, bad dates, and favorite TV shows. It’s also okay to check in to see if your friend is still up for your usual activities and plans — don’t cut them out assuming they want the rest or time alone. Sherrie Dunlevy, author of How Can I Help? Your Go-to Guide for Helping Loved One’s Through Life’s Difficulties, spoke to a lot of women about what helped them most during the battles with cancer. “One woman said the best thing one of her friends did was tell her they still needed her to chair a committee for a fundraiser,” Dunlevy says. “She said it was a welcomed distraction.”

Show up
When Alexandria Whitaker was diagnosed at age 24, her best friend Rachel stepped up. “She has been by my side every step of the way. She even flew to Florida from New York for my first chemo infusion,” Whitaker says. “As soon as I told her my diagnosis, she wanted to be there for me in whatever way possible. We didn’t know right off the bat if I’d have chemo or surgery first, so her first thoughts were just to get down here when I needed her, whatever that process might look like.” Just remember to check in first — not everyone wants in-person visits. “Visit them, whether at home recovering or at the hospital, but don’t just show up, call first and make sure the visit is short, unless invited to stay longer,” Dunlevy says. “Sometimes, it just becomes too tiring.”

Stay connected and help from afar
You don’t have to jump on a plane to help. Being there physically might not be possible, but there’s plenty you can still do if your friend lives far away. Use social media, email, and snail mail to your advantage. “[Rachel] was only able to be there for me in person once but I never felt like she was far,” Whitaker says. “She’s been the most thoughtful and understanding friend imaginable, sending me sweet messages, funny tweets or Instagram posts to lift my spirits, checking in with me via my mom or fiancé when I wasn’t feeling well enough to be on the phone, organizing care packages… the list really goes on and on!”

Ask what she needs
Everyone is different — what might help one friend might make another feel overwhelmed. If you’re not sure what to do, just ask, says breast cancer survivor Summer Yule, RDN. “One of the best ways to support a friend with breast cancer is to ask them what they need. They could need help with childcare, they might appreciate some home-cooked meals (so they don’t need to be the ones in the kitchen when they are tired from chemo),” she says. Or they might want something simpler. “Cancer diagnosis is scary and they might just need a friend to listen. I think one of the best ways a friend can be supportive is to ask how to help and let the friend know that they are there for them during this difficult time.”