I grew up in a very industrialized city in Connecticut. There were factories in every part of town that spewed toxic smoke into the air and dumped toxic chemicals into the ground and water. I am not unfamiliar with breast cancer. In the city I grew up in, in just about every neighborhood, and in just about every family, you can find someone who has been impacted by breast cancer. When family or friends receive a breast cancer diagnosis, it’s time to offer support, but what can you do to help someone who is facing this alarming diagnosis?
One of the greatest gifts you can offer to someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer is your attention. Stay present and listen. Most times, they are not looking for you to solve the issue, but just to listen to their fears and concerns.
Listening is an art. You need to remain “present” at the moment and not compare this to anything that has happened to you - unless you have had breast cancer and can speak to it firsthand. This is not the time to be competitive about life’s difficulties. As a friend or loved one, your duty is to be empathetic and to listen. Offer advice if asked. Offer your support to do whatever it is they need you to do, even if that is only to listen to them when they feel like talking.
Most people will not ask for help. We tend to try and manage our difficulties on our own, not wanting to burden anyone with our problems. Understand this about your loved one. They may want to suffer in silence because they don’t want to impose on your relationship. Your duty is to offer assistance without being asked if necessary.
Maybe it’s as simple as making a meal for them when they are down or visiting them to cheer them up. Maybe it’s picking their kids up from school for them or taking their kids to your house for a play date to give them some me time. It could be driving them to doctor's appointments or going to the pharmacy or the grocery store for them. Maybe it’s a quick phone call or text to tell them a funny story or just check on how they are doing. Helping someone doesn’t have to be a major undertaking. Normally it is the small things that matter when life takes an unexpected turn.
If your loved one will allow it, try to join them for their doctor or treatment appointments. It is always good to have a second set of ears when you go to the doctor. The patient may not absorb, hear or understand all that is being said to them.
Help your loved one formulate and write down questions to ask. Ask questions yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask about new and emerging treatments your loved one may be eligible for. Also, help your loved one find clinical research studies to see if they are a possible candidate. Your participation in their care and treatment can help alleviate anxiety for both of you!
If your friend or loved one does not want you to visit or doesn’t want to talk on the phone, don’t take this personally. She is most likely confused, sad, and worried about her health and diagnosis.
Unless you have walked this mile, you will not understand. Give her space. Let her know that you are always there for her. When she is ready to talk, she knows where to find you. Respect her silence and her wanting to be left alone at times.
You can still text her or leave her voice messages letting her know that you are thinking of her. We all need space sometimes to still the chaos in our heads. Know that it is her way of coping at this moment and it has nothing to do with you at all.
When all is said and done, the only thing we can offer someone who is in distress is ourselves. Our friendship, our love, our time, and our undying support to help them in whatever way they may need.
Remember, it is often the smallest things in life that make the biggest impact!
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My name is Laura Castricone and I am a Certified Respiratory Therapist. I have been practicing in the state of Connecticut since 1992. I have worked in several aspects of respiratory care ...
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