How to Show Support to a Friend With Metastatic Breast Cancer

Learn ways to help to someone living with this incurable condition.

woman comforts friend with breast cancer

Updated on October 5, 2023

About 170,000 women in the United States are living with metastatic breast cancer, according to the most recent available estimates. Sometimes called MBC, metastatic breast cancer begins in the breast and spreads to other parts of the body. There is no cure for MBC, and treatment focuses on minimizing symptoms, stopping progression of the cancer, and maintaining a good quality of life for as many years as possible.

MBC is a disease that presents many physical and emotional challenges to both patients and their loved ones. If your friend has been diagnosed with MBC, you likely want to pitch in any way you can. However, knowing how to help can be a challenge in itself. What do you say to your friend? How do you know what they need? How can you tell when you are overstepping?

It is normal to second guess whether you are saying or doing the right things. But you shouldn’t let these doubts prevent you from supporting your friend. Here are some tips to help.


Let your friend talk when they want to, and don't push them to say more than they’d like. Only give advice when asked, and be careful when talking about other people's cancer stories, because everyone’s experience is different. Respect your friend’s decisions about treatment, even if you believe you'd make different decisions. Try not to bring issues you find stressful to the discussion; your friend may not be able to comfort you as you’d like. 

Expect it to be emotional

When someone has cancer, especially a cancer like MBC, they will likely experience a wide range of emotions. They may feel sad, shocked, angry, guilty, fearful, lonely, and isolated. These feelings can change from day to day, and all of them are common and valid. 

Learn more about MBC

Educating yourself as much as possible about MBC can help you get a better idea what your friend is going through. If you’re not sure where to start, speak with a healthcare provider or get information from organizations specializing in cancer, such as the American Cancer Society or the National Cancer Institute.

Make plans

Having something to look forward to can be uplifting for patients with serious illnesses. But remember to be flexible. Symptoms can be unpredictable, and plans may change when a friend is no longer feeling up to a particular activity. 

Offer practical help

When offering help, suggest specific, tangible ways you can provide assistance, instead of simply asking, “What can I do to help?” This takes the pressure off your friend to think of something, and also makes asking for help less awkward. Remember, just because someone may really need help, it doesn’t mean they are comfortable asking for it. Here are some things you can offer to do:

  • Bring meals
  • Babysit
  • Help care for pets
  • Run errands, such as pick up groceries
  • Drive to and from appointments or treatment sessions
  • Do household chores, like cleaning or mowing the lawn

You can also ask your friend if they’d like you to sit in on an appointment to take notes or provide a second set of ears.

Keep in touch

This one is especially important if you and your friend live some distance apart. Many patients experience a flurry of activity and attention from friends and loved ones right after they are diagnosed. But as treatment continues, it wanes. So, make sure to call regularly, stop by, or send a card just to let your friend know you are thinking of them, and they’ll always have your support.

Article sources open article sources

NIH MedlinePlus Magazine. Quick facts on metastatic breast cancer. October 14, 2020.
Cleveland Clinic. Metastatic Breast Cancer. Last reviewed September 11, 2023.
NIH/National Cancer Institute. Support for Caregivers of Cancer Patients. Updated January 12, 2023. Supporting a Friend Who Has Cancer. Approved October 2022.

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