What Women With Breast Cancer Wish You Knew
If you know someone with breast cancer, this is helpful advice.
Just over 10,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 50 every year in the UK. Of these, nearly 8,000 women will be in their 40s. Around 2,200 women in the UK are diagnosed aged 39 or under, or just 4% of all cases.
So it is likely you will know someone who is affected, and these suggestions may be helpful though of course not all will apply or be necessarily right for you.
First, just listen
It’s a shock to learn that a friend or loved one has breast cancer. It’s natural to want to know all the details. But a lot of questions can be tough for her to face. She may not have all the answers yet.
Accept what she’s sharing. She understands you don’t know what to say. But instead of, “You’re a fighter; you’re going to beat this,” try, “I can’t imagine how you must feel, I’m here to listen if you want to talk.”
Don’t say, ‘call me if you need me’
You’ll probably never get the call. It’s better to be specific about what you can do. Say “I can help you with housework on Tuesday or Thursday,” or, “I’m making some casseroles, is there something you would prefer or any ingredient I should avoid?”
If she’s recovering from surgery, offer to wash her hair since reaching above her head is nearly impossible.
Kids need TLC
Kids are kids whether a parent is dealing with cancer or not. Offer to drive your friend’s children to school or drive them to dance class or soccer practice or any after school activity they won’t want to miss.
Help make things as “normal” as possible. Many teachers and other adults don’t know what to say to kids with a sick parent — so they say nothing. Be someone they can turn to. Tell them that you’ll listen when they want to talk.
She needs a supporter
It’s easy for someone with breast cancer to get overwhelmed by the decisions she has to make. She might need your help to understand it all.
Offer to go along to important doctor’s appointments to take notes and ask questions. Having another set of ears in the room may ease her mind.
You can offer to drive her to chemotherapy or radiation sessions, too.
Reconstruction is NOT a boob job
A mastectomy — the removal of one or both breasts — is an ordeal. Many women are heartbroken to lose such intimate body parts.
Reconstruction can rebuild the shape and look of their chest, but it’s not the same as breast enhancement. It can take many surgeries before it’s all over.
Some women decide against doing it at all. Whatever they choose, accept it, and don’t try to change her mind.
Cancer doesn’t ask your age
If someone in their 20s or 30s has the disease, she’s probably tired of people saying, “You’re so young and active, how can you have cancer?”
She may feel isolated because many people in her shoes are much older. When she feels comfortable, urge her to find a group of young people with breast cancer who can understand what she’s going through.
Men get it, too
Around 370 men are diagnosed each year in the UK (compared to around 55,000 women) but please don’t question why he has a “woman’s disease” or insist it must be the wrong diagnosis.
Men with breast cancer may need even more support because they feel out of place. Most importantly, encourage the men in your life to get any breast lump checked by a doctor right away.
Don’t suggest what might have prevented it
It may be tempting but do try to keep your opinions about cancer prevention to yourself.
Once diagnosed it’s not helpful to suggest that yoga, juicing, or anything else could’ve prevented their breast cancer.
Cancer isn’t ‘One-Size-Fits-All’
There are many different kinds of breast cancer. Some grow fast, some grow slow. Some are harder to treat than others.
You probably won’t know exactly which type your friend has — she might not even know right away. So don’t say, “My friend had breast cancer and it was horrible,” or “My aunt’s cancer was no big deal.”
You may be trying to be helpful but each case is unique, and people respond differently to treatment.
Understand if she says ‘No’
People going through treatment or recovering from surgery have a limited amount of energy and need to spend it wisely.
Sometimes, they have to turn down an invitation or cancel plans. She’s not trying to ditch you — her body probably needs a reboot. Take a raincheck for a day when she’s feeling more rested.
People need a break from cancer
If your friend is up for getting lunch or meeting for coffee, the last thing she probably wants to do is talk about cancer. After all, she’s more than her disease.
Try to keep the conversation focused on everyday things — her family, a recent holiday, or a TV show you both like. If she wants to talk about cancer, she’ll bring it up.
Treatment Is a long road
Many people with breast cancer need to take medication for 5-10 years to try to keep cancer from coming back. These drugs can have bad side effects like bone and joint pain, mood swings, and fatigue.
Often doctors prescribe other pills — like antidepressants and pain meds — to fight those side effects. Know that your loved one might not be back to her “old self” for a while.
‘Moving On’ can be hard
Treatment is over, and there are no signs of cancer. That’s great news, but some people still may have some mental healing to do.
She may show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, like not sleeping well or having crying fits and may constantly check for lumps and bumps.
Instead of telling her to “get back to normal,” urge her to talk to her doctor. Medications, therapy, and other treatments can help.
Little things mean a lot
People with breast cancer really do want your thoughts and prayers — even if you haven’t been in touch for years.
Let them know you’re thinking of them by dropping a note or card in the mail. Even just a text message once in a while will brighten their day.
They might be too wiped out to respond right away, but know that all your good thoughts and best wishes are appreciated.
One of the main causes linked to breast cancer is excess oestrogen that is not balanced by progesterone. Always check your hormone balance to reduce your risk and if you are oestrogen dominant take action to restore progesterone levels.
Women receiving treatment for breast cancer are often very concerned about the possible hair loss, and there is an excellent hair loss support charity that offers emotional support and practical advice. Their Cancer Hair Care information website and services will help you to feel confident through your illness and into recovery at https://www.cancerhaircare.co.uk/