Redefining Courage

How To Help Someone Who Has Been Diagnosed With Breast Cancer

My family history is peppered with courageous women who have had breast cancer – my two maternal aunts, my maternal grandmother, and my mom. Breast cancer has not been the easiest thing to see, nor walk through. It is no respecter of persons, but it has made us stronger and able to face hardship with our faith.

I am a previvor (a woman choosing to have a preventative double mastectomy) and I can remember what it felt like to wake up in the hospital after I made the decision to have my breasts removed preventatively. It was shocking, scary, and painful. I knew I was going to need help as I navigated recovery with my husband, three small children, a dog, and a home to take care of. If this is a path you have taken or may be facing, keep in mind that you too may experience some effects of this as well. Grief, pain, and questioning are a part of the journey and your feelings are valid.

If a loved one has cancer, here are some practical things to think about because friends, family, and community can absolutely help her fight it.

She needs help. Recovery is a process. Everyone is different and will need different things. Your offering to pick up her kids, walk the dog, or grocery shop may be the most helpful gesture you could offer. A lot of friends may provide these generous services at the beginning of her battle, but these offers will likely fade away as life gets busy. So be sure to check on her a couple of weeks and months after her treatment begins as well. Recovery can take up to eight weeks post a mastectomy surgery – not to mention the effects of chemotherapy or radiation that she may experience – so these offers to help during this difficult time will be needed, and extremely appreciated.

She needs (real) friends. You can be that friend for her. You are in her life for a reason and you have gifts and abilities that she could use right now. You know what your strengths are – use them in this moment in time. No one person is like you and she will be blessed by the perfect friend you are. A handwritten note is often forgotten about in today’s digital world, but receiving one can still mean a great deal to her, as she knows it takes time, thought, and is personal. That is a wonderful gift to give. Listening is another wonderful gift, and sometimes it’s one of the hardest things to do (speaking from experience); but remember that being there to listen to her voice her thoughts and feelings – both the good and the bad – is time she will cherish.

She needs grace. She isn’t herself as she is dealing with heightened anxiety, brain fog, and side effects from medication and/or treatments. She needs plenty of grace from you as you both navigate your relationship in a different way.

She needs encouragement. This is a very devastating time in her life. Many things are changing, especially her thoughts of herself and the anxiety of the future … so your encouraging words can be just what she needs. Words are powerful. Speak life. Speak hope. Help her redefine her courage.