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.