Our firm has a long connection with raising awareness about breast cancer, and we are supportive of the many ways in which October has become a month the whole country focuses attention on the disease. But it is important to realize that for women and families facing breast cancer, support is a year-round, lifelong activity. October is great for raising funds and encouraging early detection, but some of the most important help can be offered by friends and loved ones who take the time to talk and listen.
I’ll never forget the unbelievable support offered by friends and loved ones when my wife was battling with breast cancer over a decade ago. My children were young and my neighbors jumped in, preparing meals, mowing my lawn, taking my children to school and after school activities. It was remarkably helpful for someone who was self-employed with as many kids as I have, especially at the end when hospice was involved. Over the years I’ve seen this happen with many others in my shoes, and it always makes a huge difference.
Survival rates for breast cancer are increasing by about 2% each year. Awareness, detection, and treatment are all getting better, but far too many of us have people in our lives fighting this disease and other forms of cancer.
Here are a few tips for supporting breast cancer patients – and all those struggling to cope with the impact of the disease – beyond October.
1. Fear is part of the package, for everyone. Recognize that everyone involved will feel fear, and that the fear associated with cancer may never fully go away. Emotions are unpredictable, and it is often helpful to talk about them. Ask, listen, and accept their experiences as they come.
2. Engage Fully, Where They Are. Remember that it is okay to talk frankly about the subject, while not letting it be the only topic. Many patients and survivors appreciate having conversations about their illness, while others find it helpful to focus on something other than the experience surrounding their illness. Listen closely and take cues from them.
3. Embrace the Awkwardness. Admit you want to be a good friend, but may not know how. It’s okay to make mistakes and say something that may seem insensitive. Ask your friend to correct you and let you know how to be most helpful in expressing your love and concern. Health.com has some other recommendations on how to be a friend to someone with breast cancer.
4. Offer Specific Help. During treatment and afterwards, reach out and let them know what you can do. If you are at the store, maybe call and ask if you can bring by something they are in need of. They’ll know you are thinking of them, and they’ll be pleased to accept the help if they need it.
5. Celebrate and memorialize victories and anniversaries. When you are battling cancer every step matters. Being a month, year, or decade away from the cancer experience doesn’t make the anniversary less meaningful. Cards and phone calls to celebrate are often welcomed.
Great support for cancer patients starts with listening and caring!
For more information and support services, contact the Virginia Breast Cancer Foundation.