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How to Show Support to a Friend With Metastatic Breast Cancer

How to Show Support to a Friend With Metastatic Breast Cancer

Useful tips on the right way to offer help to someone who is living with metastatic breast cancer.

More than 150,000 women in the United States are living with metastatic breast cancer. Sometimes called MBC, metastatic breast cancer is cancer that began in the breast, but has spread to other parts of the body. There is no cure for MBC, and treatment focuses on minimizing symptoms, stopping the progression of the cancer, improving the patient’s quality of life and prolonging the patient’s life.

As you can imagine, it is a disease that presents many physical and emotional challenges to both patients and their loved ones.

As a friend of someone who has been diagnosed with MBC, you will want to help in any way you can. However, knowing how to help in the right way can be a challenge in itself. What do you say to your friend? How do you know what your friend needs? How do you know when you are overstepping? What exactly can you do?

Know that it is normal to second guess whether you are saying or doing the right things for your friend, and that you shouldn’t let these doubts prevent you from offering to help.

The following tips can offer some guidance about how to support your friend.

Listen
Let your friend talk when she wants to, and don't push her to say more when she doesn’t want to. 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 would make different decisions.

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 these responses are normal.

Learn more about MBC
Educating yourself as much as possible about your friend's cancer can help you get a better idea what she is going through. If you’re not sure where to start, the article 5 Resources for Patients With Metastatic Breast Cancer features a number of links to websites that offer patient education materials.

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 that they need help with, and also makes asking for help less awkward—remember, just because someone may really need help, it doesn’t meant they are comfortable asking for it. Here are some ideas of 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
  • Household chores, like cleaning or mowing the lawn

You can also ask your friend if she'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. Make sure to call regularly, stop by or send a card just to let your friend know you are thinking of her, and that she still has your support.

Medically reviewed in July 2018.

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