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When You Hear the News

Everyone reacts differently when they receive a breast cancer diagnosis. You should respect her reaction and not forget that it’s perfectly normal for that person to experience mood swings from one day, or even from one hour, to the next.

Here are some suggestions made by women with breast cancer that can help you support the person you care for to deal with the disease:

  • suggest that she writes a text to help her prepare break the news of her diagnosis to the people around her;
  • offer to look after her children while she processes the news. She may want to be alone for a while to pull herself together before telling the children about the situation;
  • offer to go along to her doctor’s appointments. Don’t underestimate the importance of reassuring her that you’re there for her; this can take a great load off her shoulders;
  • show affection. This will comfort and help her feel she’s being supported during the process;
  • don’t say things like “I know how you feel” or “Don’t worry, it’ll pass.” It’s best to simply lend a compassionate ear.

During Treatment

Undergoing cancer treatments can be a very tiring experience for the affected person, both physically and morally. Hence, your support is crucial.

Here are some suggestions on how you can provide support without exhausting yourself:

  • take a few minutes to give her a call;
  • take her out to a movie, a restaurant or theatre;
  • make an appointment for her with a hairdresser or an esthetician;
  • plan on going shopping. She’ll need to purchase some items for her treatment such as: pyjamas, scarves, cosmetics, breast or hair prostheses, etc.
  • if she had a mastectomy, offer to help her sort through her closets;
  • give her flowers, notebooks, books or music records; 
  • send her a comforting note;
  • talk to her about this and that;
  • take her out to a show; it will brighten up her day and help her forget the disease for a while;
  • prepare freezer-ready meals for her;
  • help with housework or go grocery shopping;
  • offer to take her children to daycare or school, or to look after them yourself for a few hours;
  • if she agrees, research information about the disease and resources available in her area.

However you must be careful not to exhaust yourself, and not neglect your own needs, especially if you are the spouse or someone very close to the person affected by the illness. Just as you’re taking care of her needs, you should take equal care of yourself and take time to rest and relax.

Keep in mind as well that anyone undergoing cancer treatment has a weakened immune system, so it’s important to avoid all contact if you get sick.

After Treatment

Stay around; she still needs your company and support. While you may think that once the treatment is over the illness is cured, this period represents the beginning of a demanding phase for the person you care for: going back to work and resuming a normal life, with possibly less energy than she had before.