So someone you know has breast cancer. Now what? Letting her know that you love her and you’ll pray for her and will be there to help her through it all may sound like a cliché, but what else can you do? What can you say that will make it better for her? What does she need? You won’t find out from reading a book or online article exactly what will help her through this, but you can get a few basic pointers to help you figure out a plan that will offer her the type of love and support that she needs from you.
Be True to Who She Really Is
During any person’s journey from the initial cancer diagnosis to recovery, they will undoubtedly find themselves being pulled in a million different directions. For example, they may wish to remain somewhat private about the details of their cancer, yet may also wish to talk about it as much as possible at the same time. Your friend or loved one will fall somewhere along the scale between introverted and extroverted and though that may change slightly, especially during a stressful time like this, you can support her the best by knowing which personality type she is. Extroverts, for example, often feel excited and energized after a conversation with others. Introverts, however, usually feel drained after any interaction with others, regardless of whether or not the conversation was a positive one.
Is She an Extrovert?
If she seems to be energized by outside stimuli (such as other people, events, social activities, and community events, then she is probably an extrovert. Extroverts love to be around other people and are usually very outgoing and social when in crowds. If she is an extrovert, then she probably feels invigorated spiritually, physically, and mentally when around large crowds and when participating in social or family gatherings. Even if she may normally seem to enjoy being the center of attention, she may feel a little closed in and wish to remain discreet recently after a breast cancer diagnosis. You can offer the best support by letting her know that you are there for her, are interested in how she is doing, and are always willing to listen to her but don’t push her too hard to talk about how she feels. The extrovert in her may actually fare better by going out to social events or activities that can help her take her mind off of what’s going on inside of her by concentrating instead on the stimuli that is going on around her (Gemignani, 2013).
Is She an Introvert?
If she seems to or says that she would prefer to spend her evenings alone in the quiet comfort of her home instead of going to parties and large social events, then she may be an introvert. Though your first instinct upon hearing that a loved one has a diagnosis of breast cancer may be to constantly be around them to comfort them and take care of them, introverts naturally prefer some good solitary time. The advice for introverts is very much like the advice for extroverts, let her know that you care about her very much, that you will be there whenever she needs you for whatever she needs you for, and that you are willing to listen to her when she is ready to talk. In the meantime, encourage her to spend her time alone in healthy ways. Make the suggestion that she could go someplace that feels safe and she can enjoy some quiet solitude to gather her thoughts and feelings. If she does inclinate that she does not want to be alone, don’t overwhelm her with too many questions. Instead, let her know you’re there, but ask if she would like to do something comforting, like practicing yoga, meditating, taking a walk, or just watching television together (Gemignani, 2013).
Don’t Forget to Help Yourself
Always keep in mind that you can only be the helpful source of support and comfort that your loved one needs if you, yourself, are in sound body, mind, and soul. While it is normal and supportive to be ever-present for her in the initial weeks after she gets her diagnosis and during daunting treatments, you will need to take some time for yourself. Recharge your batteries when you feel exhausted. Get plenty of nutritious food, exercise, and sleep when you need it. You may be so concerned with her well-being that you forget that you are only human yourself. Find your own sources of support, and if necessary, join a support group loved ones of breast cancer survivors. You are no good to anyone else if you aren’t any good to yourself. If nothing else, remember to nurture your own extrovert (or introvert) self.
If Cancer Returns
If your loved one’s breast cancer has responded well to the treatments, then by all means celebrate her survival and help her get her life back to normal. Just remember that most women, and their loved ones, hold onto that same fear somewhere in the back of their minds that the cancer will recur or develop in the other breast.
Remind your loved one and yourself that 70 to 90 percent of women who are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer never experience a recurrence after the final round of treatments (Braddock, 2007). Here, again, just as it is with all health issues, early detection is the primary key to survival. The sooner a new tumor can be discovered, the sooner the treatment can begin.
One of the best strategies for her long-term survival is to pay very close attention to her body and her overall health. Help her to understand that while it is important to pay attention, hyperfocus on her health may drive her stress levels up which could, in turn, increase her risk of getting a serious health issue. However, because there is still a 10-30 percent chance of a recurrence, it is still important that she report any of the following symptoms to her doctor right away for testing:
- Extreme weight loss or loss of appetite
- Persistent coughing
- Difficulty breathing
- Extreme muscle weakness or numbness
- Headaches or migraines
- Bone pain
Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization www.Y-ME.org
The Y-Me National Breast Cancer Organization is a nonprofit organization that started as a small group of women who met and supported each other to a national organization in 27 cities in the United States. The mission is to increase breast cancer awareness, decrease breast cancer deaths, and to ensure through peer support, information and empowerment, that nobody who is diagnosed with breast cancer will have to face it alone.
National Cancer Institute www.cancernet.nci.nih.gov
The National Cancer Institute web site has some of the most recent cancer information and news from the National Cancer Institute. This agency is headed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Braddock, S.W. (2007). Straight Talk About Breast Cancer. [Book]. Available from: Addicus Books Inc. Omaha, NE.
Gemignani, M.L. (2013). The Ultimate Guide to Breast Cancer. [Book]. Available from: Rodale Inc. New York, NY.