Breast cancer support is so important to a woman who going through treatment. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was blessed with friends and family who stood by me in my suffering. They didn’t sugar-coat it or avoid it. They just showed up and walked with me right through it. This is what they did and didn’t do for me:
1. Be there. Just show up. You don’t need to bring food, or flowers, or wisdom, or wine. Just show up. Knock on the door and swoop in. You will be able to tell quickly if it is a good time to sit on the couch and talk or if it would be better just to stay in the kitchen and clean out the fridge. You will know if it would be most helpful to read a book to the kids or unload the dishwasher. Don’t worry about interrupting or disturbing the peace. There are people in there who need you. Maybe we just need a distraction, an extra hand at bedtime, or someone to make us feel OK about tossing out the three lasagnas. Don’t stay too long, but please show up.
2. Make a meal calendar. Take the lead if no one else has. Find out what we like, what we don’t like, and what our kids will eat. Ask us about our favorite carryout places and what gift cards would be helpful. Share that information. Let people use the calendar to sign up to bring meals that they know will be eaten.
3. Mail love. Books, letters, cards, hats, scarves, chemo beanies, healing stones, handwritten poetry, crocheted blankets—they will all be carefully studied, held, cried over, and appreciated. If we have kids in the family, send gifts for them too.
4. Text, email, Facebook, tweet your support. Prayers, inspirational quotes, funny inside jokes, they will come at all the right times—in the waiting rooms, in parking lots when we are banging our heads against the steering wheel, in our breakdown moments slumped against the wall. They will come through at all the right times.
5. Don’t stop complaining about the stupid shit. Maybe we can no longer work, or run with our children to the park, or make dinner for our family. But we can still listen. Please don’t stop talking. It’s OK to complain about the coworker who pees on the floor and doesn’t wipe it up. Keep telling us the stories about the in-laws, the traffic jams, and the sweater that you wished was on sale, but isn’t. Cancer sucks, but so does pee on the bathroom floor. We want to hear it—please don’t stop complaining.
6. Don’t forget that our husbands need extra love too.
7. Please don’t say, “At least you get a brand new set of perky boobs!” I would trade these cold, foreign, numb circles for my saggy triangle-shaped boobs that slipped into my armpits while lying on my back in a heartbeat. Those boobs fed my babies.
8. Please don’t tell us about your friend’s sister’s friend’s neighbor who had breast cancer 10 years ago and was cancer-free, until it spread everywhere and now she is dead.
9. Tell us that we are strong. Tell us that we will beat this. Tell us that it is OK if we fall apart.
10. If you can afford it and we don’t have one, buy us a blender. Fill our freezers with frozen organic fruit and make us smoothies with coconut milk and spinach. And then bring us cheese fries if we ask for them.
11. Take us on walks. Force us outside. Make us breathe, and walk, and talk. Stop by and help us tie our shoes. Hold up our coats, stretch a hat over our bald heads, and take us on a walk. Make us breathe fresh air.
12. Rub our feet and make us tea. Use peppermint lotion and fresh ginger. Don’t worry about it being awkward. Cancer forces walls to come down. Tell us about the time you ripped your pants on a date and rub our feet and make us tea.
13. Listen. Some days our words will be strong, graceful and full of hope. Other days they will be broken, sluggish and sad. Just listen.
14. Leave food on our porch, rake our leaves, shovel our snow, send us old pictures, buy us cozy socks and blankets, recommend movies, paint us pictures, hold our hands, and when you don’t know what else to do: pray.