There are few things more heartbreaking than learning a close friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s hard to know what to say, much less how to help. You want to make space for your friend’s feelings without resorting to overused platitudes. You want to provide concrete help without overwhelming her with “need anything?” texts. You want to be there for her in ways that are actually helpful. Here are some ways you can offer meaningful support to your friend to affirm she is seen, she is loved, and she isn’t alone.
Learn How To Listen — Like, Actually Listen
Being a good listener is one of the most valuable skills you can bring to any relationship, but it’s especially important when you’re offering support during a difficult time. It makes sense that you’d want to commiserate, but now is not the time to share unprompted stories about people you know who have had cancer. The intent with sharing these kinds of stories is typically to share sympathy and understanding, but in reality it pulls the conversation away from your friend’s struggle. Unless you’ve had breast cancer, it’s impossible for you to fully understand how your friend is feeling — and that’s okay. You don’t need to have the perfect advice or even any advice at all. Just be the person your friend can vent to, can cry on, can just sit with and trust that her experience will remain the central focus.
Don’t Stop Inviting Her Out
A little sense of normalcy can go a long way. If the two of you love a good mani-pedi or are rarely seen without a coffee in hand, swing by with some press-ons and her favorite decaf latte. If she’s the person you wait to watch Netflix shows with, set up an afternoon of binge watching and popcorn at your place. And never underestimate the value of a little time outside. Get out for a nature walk if weather permits and your friend’s feeling up for it, or hit up your favorite shops for some retail therapy. Your friend’s cancer diagnosis didn’t change who she is at her core — she likely still wants to do regular stuff with her besties.
Let Her Lead Conversations About Cancer
Don’t feel like you need to have her recant everything about her treatment every time you catch up. It makes sense you’d want to know everything — duh, she’s your friend. But it also makes sense that she might not always have the energy to share it all, and she may want to talk about anything but cancer. Leave it up to her to decide whether she wants to talk about chemo, complain about her appetite, or just gripe about something ridiculous her kid did earlier that week. Give her space to talk about the entirety of her life, not just her diagnosis.
Help Out Without Waiting To Be Asked
Most moms are all too familiar with the phrase, “Let me know if you want me to help,” and why it’s not really all that helpful. However well-intentioned it may be, it still puts the onus on the person in need of help to determine what needs to be done and then delegate accordingly. Your friend is probably already inundated with “here to help!” texts. Of course, let her know you’re available whenever she needs to reach out, but also don’t hesitate to step up and help without prompting. If you’ve stopped by for a visit and her sink is piled with dishes, roll up your sleeves and get to work. Basket of clean laundry? Get to folding. Drop off a care package or dinner every so often without feeling the need to stay. Sometimes the hardest time to ask for help is when we need it most. Be the friend who doesn’t need to be asked.
Keep Showing Up
This may be a no-brainer, but it’s worth repeating for those who may be feeling unsure about how to help: consistency is key. Don’t just tell her you’re in it for the long haul — actually be there for the long haul. Send her baked goods and an actually empathetic card every once in a while. Keep your group text flooded with funny memes. Keep telling her your good news and bad news and blah news — in moderation. In short, keep being the friend to her that she’s always been to you.
To put it simply, cancer sucks. But like most awful things, having a devoted friend who knows how to listen and will stick it out through even the hardest days can make it suck a little less.
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