Do you know someone who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer? Statistically, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, so, unfortunately, there’s a good chance that if you don’t already know someone who’s been diagnosed, you might in the future.
One extremely common message that I receive is “my _______ was just diagnosed with breast cancer. What can I do or get for her?” I've asked this question a few times myself. It’s hard feeling helpless when someone you care about is going through a crisis and if you’re anything like me, you may get stuck overthinking things and even end up with analysis paralysis…doing nothing because you just couldn’t figure out what to do!
Don’t become paralyzed from not knowing what to do — just SHOW UP. Show up with food... show up to take the kids to a movie… show up to do laundry... show up to clean the kitchen counters… show up to watch tv with her… show up with groceries… show up to pick kids up from school or take them to activities and video them for her so she doesn’t feel she’s missing out on things… show up with a playlist to listen to together or just play for her if she wants to be alone… whatever it looks like for your relationship, just show up for them.
People often have the best intentions and the gesture is BEYOND appreciated—- but it is possible to receive too many blankets or socks. I encourage you to offer support in ways that could greatly benefit her or her family. Cancer is expensive… fatigue is real…mom guilt happens...nausea and sickness is usually a huge part of her day…
Another thing to consider is that even when active treatment is finished and she seems to have made it through to remission, she will still have her share of struggles! (If you haven’t read my last blog, “the aftermath of breast cancer, check it out to know what I mean!), so continue to show up for her in the aftermath of breast cancer… continue to check in on her… continue to help her out with her kids and daily life duties. This could mean the world to her. 💛
Now- with all this said, please remember that everyone is unique in how they feel, react, respond, grieve, how private/public they want to keep their journey and how they prefer to be
helped. Be respectful of her preferences and don’t be judgmental if it’s a different response than you would have or think you would have. Crisis can change how we think, act or feel and that is totally ok!
With the help of other survivors, I’ve created a list on how to help when someone you care about has been diagnosed with breast cancer:
1. Organizational tools
My sister made me a binder that helped me organize all of my paperwork, appointments, information, etc. and it helped me stay organized when my mind was going a million different directions! (This is what inspired the Breast Cancer Binder that we offer to survivors!)
2. Help keep life as normal as possible … especially for kids
My family and friends stepped up big time taking care of my kids! They took them to the zoo, parks, had sleepovers, did crafts, cooked, bathed, etc. etc.
You would arrange for a cleaning person to come in or even help her yourself to clean her house once or on a recurring schedule during treatments -- this was a super common response!
It doesn’t need to be an “official cleaning”... just showing up and cleaning or organizing anything that would help her feel better!
4. MEALS (this was the most common answer! Most of us don’t feel like cooking every night as it is, but women especially don’t want to cook with the effects of cancer treatments or surgeries! This also ensures she’ll have food to eat if she lives alone or it takes the load off of a spouse/family/roommate who may be taking on way more than normal.)
Create a meal train
Make meals for the family
Bring over meals that can be kept in the freezer and taken out when needed
Gift cards for local restaurants that deliver or for delivery services like Door Dash, Grub Hub or Uber Eats
Socks (with sayings on them like “if you can read this, I’m kicking cancer’s butt”)
Creams for radiation (like Eucerin cream with 10% urea)
Snacks for chemo (everyone’s taste is different -- oatmeal and peanut butter were two things that helped settle my nausea, but ask her what she likes at the moment -- be aware that this may change daily through treatments! Also, try to limit the sugar and offer healthy options as this will only help her progress <3
Biotene mouthwash (helps with mouth sores during chemo)
Reusable water bottle
Mastectomy pillow (nursing pillows also work great)
Wedge pillow (for after surgery)
Robe / shirts with drain pockets
Adult coloring books
T-shirts (survivor shirts, breast cancer apparel, faith over fear, etc.)
Jewelry (especially inspirational pieces like a bracelet that says “courage”, etc.)
Portable fans (for hot flashes)
Massage gift certificate from an oncology masseuse (if she has/had lymphedema as a result of surgery/radiation/treatment, find a great lymphatic drainage specialist!)
Dry brush (this helps with lymphatic drainage -- great if she’s had lymph nodes removed)
Gift certificate for Personal Training with a Cancer Exercise Specialist to combat the effects of cancer treatments and improve how she feels
Photoshoot with a photographer --- could be great for family pictures before or after losing hair from chemo, a boudoir photoshoot before or after a mastectomy, a “Warrior photoshoot” before, during or after treatment or when she’s in remission, etc. etc.
A trip/getaway for her, her family, her spouse --- even registering her for something like Mary’s Place by the Sea, which is free weekend retreat for women in active treatment in NJ.
6. Acts of Service
Coloring her hair / getting her hair done / washing her hair (especially after surgery when she can’t lift her arms)
Doing the dishes
Cleaning her house
Helping around the house with the random things that need to be done (Light bulbs need to be changed? Closets need to be organized? Something broken?)
Bathing her kids
Taking her kids to / from school or activities
Being her kids supporter when she can’t be there (make signs and cheer loud at sporting events… help with homework… record anything that she’d want to see)
Washing her sheets / doing laundry
Visiting and just being there
Driving her to treatments / appointments
Keep her company during chemo treatments (always ask first-- some will not want this)
Set up a fundraiser (this was an extremely helpful blessing to us because cancer is EXPENSIVE!)
Set up a GoFundMe/Venmo/Cash app/PayPal account
Organize a fundraiser (a dodgeball tournament, 5k race, beef and beer, silent auction, etc.)
Create a t-shirt fundraiser
Take care of her family and the people helping her --- supply food, drinks, snacks, activities, support, etc. (despite battling cancer, many survivors are constantly worried about taking care of their family, friends, guests or those helping them and I know for me, it was a wonderful gift when people did and provided things for them because I could never repay everyone for all they did to help!)
Be a listening ear --- she may just need to vent, cry, express gratitude, laugh...whatever!
Overall, the love and support of family and friends was the most valued gift I, along with many survivors, could have received. Honestly, I was brought to tears MANY times because of the thoughtfulness, generosity, love and support that I received from so many people … even people I never even met or would have never expected!! I was so humbled by the fact that so many people cared and showed up for me and my family. The gift of showing up and showing love goes so much farther than you could ever imagine. After all, we never really know what others are going through, so be extra kind, show extra grace, and give extra love!
(I encourage you to do this daily -- not just to friends or family with cancer … but in your everyday life -- show love, kindness and grace and finding little ways to help people can brighten your own day just as much!)
If you’ve got anything to add to the list, please comment and let me know! I’d love to hear ways that you were blessed by others during your journey or a way you were able to help someone else! <3
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