One in eight women will develop breast cancer during their lifetime, which can greatly impact the lives of those affected, their family and friends. Knowing how to support breast cancer patients can be empowering when everything and every day feels overwhelming. With this article, we would like to share some ideas on how to assist your loved one, providing emotional and physical support.
Physical support for the patient
Many patients may wish to keep their life routines as normal as possible during treatment, but side effects can often make it hard and cause frustration. Let them know they are not alone, and you are there to help. Asking the patient ‘What can I do for you?' is important. By taking the initiative and offering specific help, you may be able to provide even more support. Things you may offer to help with include:
- Cleaning and housekeeping
- Laundry and ironing
- Cooking meals (fill the freezer with good and health foods)
- Transport to and from hospital appointments
- Taking children to or from school
- Pet walking
If more than one person is assisting the patient, you may coordinate and create agenda schedule, so everyone may share a manageable load of activities, and everything will be organized.
Emotional support for the patient
Learning that you have breast cancer can be a devastating experience, and patients can face a rollercoaster of emotions including anger, fear, sadness, and depression. Those feelings can change and escalate quickly, and it can be challenging to know how to provide support.
It is crucial for you, as a caregiver, to focus on being supportive. Just listen, and if it’s appropriate, hold hands or give a hug, sometimes it is the most effective/powerful way of showing your support.
If the patient is feels anger towards their diagnosis, they may direct this at you, but try to keep calm. Remember: they are frustrated with their condition, rather than being upset with you.
Lastly, feeling alone is never a good thing, especially if you are ill. Let the patient rest, but also try to be a caring companion. You can accompany the patient by doing things such as:
- Knitting together
- Watching a movie
- Starting a tv series together
- Reading side by side
- Talking about anything enjoyable, not cancer-related
Do whatever the patient enjoys and help her feel less alone.
Emotional support for you
As a caregiver, you may feel exhausted, sad, and upset at times, this is normal, and you should not be ashamed of it.
Putting others first does not mean that you should forget about yourself: eat well, keep your regular exercise routine, and have some time for yourself.
If you are finding it difficult to do these things, or you start feeling anxious or depressed, let your healthcare provider know.
For daily support, you can share your feelings with a friend or family member, or you can also attend a support group to meet people going through the same situation as you are.
Male breast cancer
Breast cancer develops in the mammary tissue, which is also present in the male body. Male breast cancer is not as common as female breast cancer, but it is equally devastating. It is important that you show your support in the same way as you would with a female patient, being by their side and helping them with their daily needs.
Male patients might feel embarrassed or confused about having breast cancer. Try to make the patient feel supported and avoid sentences such as ‘I never heard that man could have breast cancer’.