In honor of the 31 days of October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness month, here are 31 things to remember if you know someone with breast cancer.
1) Don’t spend a lot of energy crafting “the right” thing to say. There is no right thing to say except maybe “I’m so sorry” and “What do you need?”
3) Stop talking. She doesn’t need you to carry the conversation; she just needs you to listen.
4) Don’t tell her about your friend or relative who had breast cancer and died of it. That’s not helpful. At all.
5) Don’t try to force her to look at the bright side. If she’s going to see it, she’ll see it for herself, when she’s ready.
6) Be honest with her. The best thing anyone said to me when I was sick was, “I want to be a good friend to you through this, but I don’t really know how. So if I do or say something stupid, please tell me.”
7) Don’t be offended when she tells you that you just said something really stupid/unhelpful.
8) Don’t pepper her rapid-fire questions about what stage her cancer is, the names of her chemo drugs, the litany of symptoms she’s experiencing, how much her treatments cost, what her scans showed, etc., because that feels like an interrogation. Instead, ask open-ended questions and let her decide what she wants to tell you.
9) Let her be an imperfect version of herself — weepy, angry, depressed, absent, silent, irritable, silly, hopeless, irrational, rude, crazy — without being offended. Her life is at stake. Let her fight this battle however she needs to fight it.
10) Remember that there’s no right or wrong way to have cancer. Everybody handles it differently, and that’s okay.
11) Offer specific help. Instead of saying, “Let me know if you need anything,” offer to bring her dinner tomorrow night or pick her up for next Tuesday’s doctor’s appointment or bring a movie and popcorn over Saturday evening.
12) Don’t be afraid of sitting with her in silence. Your presence is more powerful than whatever words you could say.
13) Let her talk about her fears without offering trite advice. She needs to be able to tell you the full weight of her pain without you trying to minimize it.
14) Show up. And then show up again. And then show up again. The only thing worse than having cancer is feeling alone in it.
15) Be available. Let her call you at midnight when she can’t sleep. Forego happy hour with friends if she needs you to come over and help her wash her hair or change her bandages.
16) Read up on breast cancer treatments & experiences. Don’t make your friend be your only educational resource.
17) Figure out your friend’s love language so you can love her in a meaningful way. Gifts? Encouraging notes? Meals? Company?
18) Celebrate small victories like going a day without vomiting, being discharged from the hospital, finishing a round of chemo or having a clear PET scan.
20) Give her a copy of The Invisible Girls. It’s the book I needed to read but couldn’t find when I had cancer in my 20’s.
21) Don’t assume pink is her new favorite color.
22) Recruit friends to meet practical needs – meals, carpools, childcare, cleaning service, car maintenance, etc.
23) Run, walk, race, donate or whatever else you can do to help find a cure.
24) Remember, it’s not about you; it’s about her. Don’t expect her to manage your needs, emotions or expectations.
25) Sometimes she needs to get her mind off of things. Offer to take her to her out for shopping, lunch, a movie, a massage, or something else she’d enjoy.
26) Offer to go with her to doctor appointments or treatment sessions. Sometimes it’s nice to have someone along.
27) Pray for her, and maybe even with her. Prayer helps.
28)Don’t give up on her life or her fight.
29) Don’t give up on your friendship.
30) And, maybe most importantly, don’t give up on yourself. It’s going to be hard, scary, emotional, and sometimes you’ll get discouraged or realize you said something stupid — but the thing is, you matter. And the fact that you took the time to read this post makes me think you’re invested in your friend’s life, which is really what being a friend is all about.
31) If you haven’t bought her a copy of The Invisible Girls yet, you really should. (No, seriously, you really should.)