So I know I owe you a post…

So I know I owe you a post … or, more accurately, a week of posts about how to help a friend through breast cancer.  But the reality is, I don’t know.  I’ve never done it.  It’s got to be incredibly hard to be the friend of someone with breast cancer, and I don’t wish that on any of you.  All I know is what’s helped me.  And here it is:

Listening.  And talking.  About the cancer, if you want, or if she wants, or about anything else.

Being there is the most important.  Don’t forget about your friend and the good times you’ve had together.  She’s still the same person and she’d still love a phone call or email now and then.  Just what you’re used to, nothing special.  And certainly no “OMG, I’ve got to go visit her NOW because she just got a diagnosis of cancer.”  Is she dying?  If she is, go.  But if not, call first, because she’ll surely think she’s dying if everyone rushes to her side upon diagnosis.  Seriously.  Just keep on what you’re doing, and offer to come help if you want to and can, but don’t put pressure on yourself to do too much at once.

Cooking.  Always good.  Whether she’s the cook or her husband, someone is certainly taking up a lot of her slack and would appreciate the time saved by the delivery of a good meal.

Shopping.  Ask what she needs.  Or surprise her with a little giftie now and then.  Could be as simple as an early chemo gift basket, if you’re very close.  What would you put in there?  Well, anything that makes you feel pretty.  Or the basics that she’ll really need and may find difficult to shop for: 

  • baby wash or baby shampoo for her tender scalp;
  • unscented or lightly scented soaps since she’ll be very sensitive to smells;
  • ditto on the hand lotion;
  • plain toothpaste and gentle floss, as chemo patients can’t use the minty, power-packed, or whitening kind;
  • a pretty scarf to hide early hair loss;
  • a light cotton cap to sleep in;
  • a long sleeve shirt to hide the IV tracks or bruises in the summer;
  • a button-down or zip shirt or jacket for after masectomy (I’m told that you can’t raise your arms for up to six weeks!);
  • mints to take away the tastes and fight metallic mouth;
  • peppermint tea or ginger biscuits for the nausea;
  • healing lip balm to counteract dry lips;
  • a magazine to read during the interminable waits at the hospital (but please, no magazines with a focus on stylish hair or perfect abs!);
  • an aromatherapy minty or chammomile wrap to take away the hospital smell and feel that lingers even after each week’s return home from chemotherapy;
  • a special bread, fruit, or healthy cookie to tempt her appetite; or even
  • any craft supplies that you know she uses but can’t get out to get out as often — a new stamp, perhaps? fancy paper? pretty yarn?

Does she have young children at home?  If so, an offer of babysitting is always appreciated.  Maybe you and some friends could take turns watching her kids while she goes to chemo each week or, even better, as she goes to cancer yoga or something else that makes her feel better and heal faster.

Kids are even more challenging when mom has cancer or another serious disease (or a cold!).  Perhaps you’ve done a fun craft recently … why not package up the supplies, write out the directions, and drop it by one morning before chemo as a playdate-in-a-box?

Real playdates are good too.  Really good.  Call her and ask “what day this week” would be a good day to come over.  Or offer to just take the kids for a morning and giver her some time to relax.  Or suggest a coffee date together one afternoon.  But be specific in your offer so that she’s more likely to take you up on it.

If she’s not able to get out as much, bring the fun to her.  Ask if you can come by and hang out with her for a while.  Bring over some brownies or a DVD or a good book that you’ve been meaning to loan her.  Or just come by and listen for a while.  Catch her up on the office gossip or who’s new at the playground.

Basically, whatever your friendship was based on before should provide you a good guide for how you can best help your friend.  Whether it’s a daily email, weekly phone call, or occasional trip out for coffee, regular contact will help you stay in touch with the friend you know — and help your friend know that as she fights the cancer, you’re there by her side and SHE IS NOT ALONE.

Does that help?  Please leave comments with your suggestions, so we can all learn from each other!


Edited to add:  There was a lot of interest in this post (it was even awarded a Perfect Post by Karen of The Miscellaneous Adventures of An Aussie Mum!) so I’ve added related posts on big ideas, using your gifts, and helping a faraway friend and linked them at the top of this page under How To Help A Friend.  May God bless you and your friends in need with a quick and complete recovery.


21 Responses to So I know I owe you a post…

  1. sherry says:

    Wow…you have covered this so well…this is some of the best “help” I have seen put down in one place. Well done!

  2. Alesia says:

    What a great post. Thank you. So many times, we don’t know how much to stay in contact, what we can do to help, if we’re being intrusive… These are wonderfully specific ways to keep the connection and be helpful, which is what most friends want to be even if they don’t know quite how.

    Haven’t been to your site in awhile. I love the photo at the top.

  3. juliepippert says:

    This is wonderful, thank you.

    S, can you email whenever you have time? no urgency whatsoever. I’m j pippert at gmail dot com.

    I couldn’t find your email address. I’m sorry.

    Muchas gracias.

    Using My Words

  4. Rachel says:

    Your blog was so insightful. I have had a few friends battle cancer and now my friends mom just got diagnosed. I enjoyed reading the shopping list and the explanations because it gave me a little picture of what they are going through day to day. I can really see your heart through all of this, your heart to help others and encourage them despite where you find yourself. Your heart to spread the truth about a cancer often misdiagnosed. Can I offer you a bit of hope that I pray you are willing to grab onto? Please see my heart in this as I have seen yours. I know you are in such a hard spot and growing stronger everyday because of it. Battling cancer and being a mom at the same time. I know of someone who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and sent home from the hospital being told we cannot help you, you have about 4 months to live. They were introduced to what my company offers and they took a hold of it. They are cancer free today and have been for 7 years when they were told they had four months to live. I know of story after story like this. Stories of hope created one person at a time. I would love to get you on the phone with one of these people so you can hear their story and how they are now cancer free. There are so many people who needed hope and are looking for answers. It is my heart as well to help others and to share with them the hope and life others now have and share. You can email me at Please take the time to listen to some stories of people I know. Please see my heart, to bring answers and hope.

  5. fizzledink says:

    This is a great post. The one thing I would add to your (wonderful!) list is a thought about the spouse of the person with cancer. When Gruff was going through his inital diagnosis and surgeries, we were engaged — and he completed his two rounds of chemo right after our wedding. I was so overwhelmed sometimes – I was right out of college, working at my first job, newly married, and trying to figure out all the cancer stuff as well.

    One of the biggest helps for ME were the friends who called and offered to drive Gruff to and from his chemo days (and/or stay with him during his chemo) so that I didn’t have to take every day off from work on those weeks, but I didn’t have to worry that he was alone either.

    I think it’s really important for the spouse to have a place – either a good friend or a good blog 😉 – where he or she can talk honestly about the fears, the anger, the worry, that comes with knowing a person you love has cancer. Being that listening ear, and reassuring the spouse that you’ll neither run tell the neighborhood what was just said – nor will you go and burden the cancer-fighting spouse with it – is an invaluable help, IMO.

    Thanks for this awesome post. I have a feeling it will become a classic.

  6. That is a really great list. Thank you!

  7. whymommy says:

    Fizz, excellent point. Typically, a person can’t go to chemo alone, for the simple reason that the premeds make it impossible to drive home. So she or he will need company. If a friend would volunteer to drive and sit with the person with cancer during a chemo treatment, I know that offer would be worth gold.

    Being there may seem impossibly hard, but it isn’t too bad to watch, I think. The hard parts may be walking into the infusion unit surrounded by cancer patients, the needle stick, and then just the waiting. Bring a book in case (s)he falls asleep. 🙂

  8. ~JJ! says:

    These are great suggestions.

    Thank you for this.

  9. canape says:

    Funny, the thing I would most like to do is reach my finger out like E.T. and just make you better. Dang.

  10. So helpful!! Thanks. You rock, as always!

  11. cancervixen says:

    I would also like to add a suggestion. Not the day of chemo, but the day after if a friend could come in and tidy up so the cancer patient gets a break from unloading the dishwasher since bending can spur on nausea or changing your bed linens since the cancer patient will sweat out the highest concentration of chemo the first 24 hours. Like any mother with small children their little ones tend to end up crawling into bed, or bouncing on it. Stripping a bed becomes important and it is a physically demanding task for most chemo patients.
    It would be my honor if I could take some of the content and add it to a survivour section of my blog, and add some of the suggestions too.

  12. Leann I Am says:

    I think those are all awesome suggestions! There are all sorts of books and articles on how to deal with your own cancer or the cancer of a child or spouse, but not nearly as much info on how to just be a supportive friend.

    YOU ROCK!!!

  13. whymommy says:

    Cancervixen — of course! Take whatever you like. All I ask is a link back or a mention of inflammatory breast cancer, so that another woman might hear of it before it’s too late.

    There are also great suggestions in the comments to the post I linked to above.

    The most amazing help that I’ve personally experienced are all Big Deals, but here they are:
    – Team WhyMommy – a bunch of online friends and blogneighbors that got together to keep me company, especially on the low days, but most importantly EVERY day, just in case;
    – MOMS Club support – they divvied me up and each mom took a week to take care of me. On Sunday, I get a call from a friend offering babysitting, shopping, cleaning, cooking, or company, and we set something up for the week. (I’ve been lucky to only need babysitting, cooking, and company. But God Bless Them for offering to clean.);
    – Morning out – one of my mom friends babysits Widget each week while I go to yoga, giving me “permission” to spend a couple hours on myself. I know I can truly relax in the darkened yoga room if my little Widget is out having an adventure with his friends and not missing me that much; and
    – Chemo Fairies – every Thursday morning before chemo, one of the moms drops off a little gift bag filled with treats, mints, and happies to help me through the day. It’s totally spoiling me, but and it’s made a huge difference in how I view Thursdays. Although I dread getting up to go to chemo in the morning, I also know that friends are thinking of me and I’m NOT ALONE as I fight this beast.

    Like I said, these are all Big Deals and committments. But they have made all the difference to me.

    (Guess this should have been a post.)

  14. Hon,

    (Just so you know – in the next few days, I’m going to nominate you for a perfect post award for this post. I can’t see an email address or contact page for you, so I have to tell you here! Feel free to moderate this post – ie. not show it up – but contact me so I can give you the little piece of code I need to!)
    Cheers, Karen

  15. whymommy says:

    Karen, you are so sweet! Thank you!

    I’ll email you too.

  16. romi says:

    me again…this is EXACTLY what i needed. I’ve been at a loss…as most are …when you get that call. My husband is my friend’s partner…is there something he can do for the husband????

  17. […] Toddler Planet’s greatly informative and no-nonsense piece came through, talking about how to help a friend or […]

  18. […] Child Is Born The Berry Patch awarded Wonderland Miscellanious Adventures of an Aussie Mum awarded Toddler Planet The Dust Will Wait awarded Life is Like a Lunchbox Midwestern Mommy awarded Slacker Moms R Us Poot […]

  19. […] to that a nomination for a November Perfect Post (for part 1 in the series on How To Help a Friend) from Miscellaneous Adventures of an Aussie Mum , and a fun review at […]

  20. […] advice is:  don’t be afraid of intruding on her “daily life.”  Get in there and give her a call when you feel like it, and send her emails just to let her know that you’re thinking of her.  […]

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