How to help a loved one diagnosed with breast cancer? Why shouldn’t you say: “It will be alright” or “You have to be strong”? Why shouldn’t you try to make the patient “see the positive side”? How to provide genuine support? This post is for those who have faced the need to give emotional support to breast cancer patients for the first time.
Breast cancer is one of the most widespread diseases among women nowadays. One in every 10 women all over the world has breast cancer.
From the moment she’s diagnosed till the treatment is finished the woman’s world is changing drastically: she’s reconsidering her most important values and life goals, people closest to her – a spouse, relatives, children – being witnesses of the process. In spite of a huge desire to give their loved one emotional support and help they’re in need of, many people simply don’t know what to say or do.
That’s why there is always professional help – support groups and counseling – for breast cancer patients’ families in clinics. Its main purpose is to make the patient’s loved ones understand what the ill person is going through and teach them how to provide the necessary emotional support. This article is a product of such an experience and knowledge.
Accept the diagnosis
The diagnosis of breast cancer always turns out to be shocking news for the woman and her family. It always leads to changes in lifestyle and daily routine. At the same time, the woman’s emotional state affects her family in earnest. No matter how much the patient tries to cope with stress and despair, their loved ones should understand that their support is much needed during this difficult time. Women very often complain to social workers that it’s easier for them not to talk about their feelings at all than become the cause of their family members’ heartache. Sometimes it is difficult for the women to express their fears. All this results in loneliness and isolation from family.
In order to accept the diagnosis and direct all the inner strength to fight the disease, doctors first and foremost recommend getting professional help –individual counseling or working with a support group, it’s up to the patient. Such help is invaluable in establishing adequate communication between partners. Experts assist the patient in developing a strong and supportive relationship with their family and talking about their wishes.
Let your loved one see your pain
As a rule, women have a strong and painful reaction to the breast cancer diagnosis due to the fear of becoming “unattractive” in their partner’s eyes. But, provided their partner’s emotional support and an opportunity of breast reconstruction immediately after mastectomy, the patient won’t feel as if their life is just about to end.
One of the nuances experts often tell breast cancer patients and their loved ones is the importance of truly talking to (and listening to) each other. When a woman says: “I know my husband won’t find me attractive anymore”, it just means that she is thinking like that. The odds of your family abandoning you because of the disease are, in fact, very low, so an open dialog is key to solving the miscommunication problem.
Any patient is more responsive to treatment if their loved one is there for them – what really matters is active support, such as attending all the procedures together, constant care, attention, conversations, etc.
And the patient’s family members and close friends shouldn’t hide their pain – it’s important to go through it together and hope for the better. Our age of innovations in medical science, including breast cancer treatment, gives everyone a chance of recovery, this chance being more real when your loved ones support you and care for you.
Stay in touch
After the treatment and surgery comes the stage usually called “cancer shackles” by medical experts. The disease has been fought, but the fighting has changed the patient’s life and relationships.
Almost every breast cancer patient points out their partner stopped touching their breasts after the surgery. Psychologists and social workers are convinced that breast cancer emotional support means a lot of touching – the patients need it!
It’s usually enough to ask in advance: “May I touch you?”, “May I give you a hug?” Don’t be afraid of asking these questions over and over if you really want to be there for your loved one. Maybe your partner will be reluctant at first, but together you will learn to accept their body changes.
Don’t ask them to “be stronger” or say that “everything will be alright”
The scariest thing about cancer is the emotional isolation the patient may suddenly find themselves in. In this case, the patient’s family get stuck in their fear of losing a mother, a wife, a sister, a grandmother that any display of feelings is considered “a weakness”. It’s necessary to learn to talk about fears in such a way so that the patient doesn’t feel they’re a burden to their family and their loved ones could have much-needed stress-relief.
The phrases like: “It will be alright” and “you should be strong and keep fighting” are not as obvious to a breast cancer survivor as, for example, to a healthy person who’s suddenly lost their job. These are two completely different situations, and saying something like that while trying to provide breast cancer emotional support is like telling an amputee: “Your life is going to remain exactly the same”.
Most patients note the words “Everything will be alright” just make them angry and explain: “Everything was alright before, but now I feel horrible and I don’t know how much time I have left, so don’t try to tell me I’m going to be okay”. The phrase “Be strong, keep fighting” is commented likewise: “I tried to be strong, but now I’m defeated, broken, I’m dying of cancer!”
Let your loved one know you need them as much as before
Unfortunately, diseases make people feel like they’re a burden, make them isolated and depressed. If you’ve caught a cold – stay at home and don’t spread the infection. If you’ve broken your leg – stay at home and let others take care of you, don’t go anywhere. And in the case of cancer, a lot of people think your life is ended, you’re going to die, and there is nothing you can do about it.
Of course, all this makes breast cancer emotional support of family and friends especially important. The desire to comfort a loved one starts with small things – let the ill person know you still need them in your life, need their help. Even during the treatment, when the patient is weak and fragile, there are things you can ask them to do:
- Make a shopping list or a housework schedule;
- Collect a few photos of places they’d like to visit;
- Put your notes in order.
Such small errands depend on your imagination, your loved one’s interests, and their current state of health.
The main principles of breast cancer emotional support:
- Give your loved one time to accept the diagnosis;
- Let them know their role in your life is still important;
- Engage your close person in everyday problem solving, ask them for advice;
- Think of daily activities and rituals which help to dispel negative thoughts;
- But don’t try to make an illusion of optimism, grief and tears are also a part of life;
- Don’t refuse the assistance from your friends and relatives, ask for help if you can’t manage alone;
- Don’t leave your dear person to their own devices.
If you make use of these tips, they’ll not only help to improve the psychological atmosphere in the family but also let the patient know they’re not a burden, and it’s very important for treating any disease.