This post is from Eloise Caggiano (shown at right), the program director for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, and a breast cancer survivor. Her advice makes a lot of sense, and much of it can be used to help a loved one with a diagnosis of any serious illness.
As the program director for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, I have met thousands of people affected by breast cancer and have heard their stories. As an eight-year breast cancer survivor myself, I have firsthand experience with not only what it is like to hear the life-changing words "You have breast cancer" but also with surgery, chemotherapy, and the challenges and emotions that come with a breast-cancer diagnosis.
Every three minutes, someone in this country is diagnosed with breast cancer and for every diagnosis, there are so many friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors who desperately want to help, but have no idea what to do. My professional and personal experiences have armed me with a host of great ways you can help someone you love who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.
1. When you stop by for a visit, offer to do something specific. "Can I throw in a load of laundry for you while I'm here?" "Can I fix you a sandwich for you to have later for dinner?" Sometimes a general "is there anything I can do?" question gets a general "no, I'm fine" response.
2. Offer to contact the person's close friends/family and arrange for someone to accompany her to each treatment. While some people prefer their privacy, many people would love to have the company and support of a friend, especially during long chemo treatments. And it's so nice not to have to ask and coordinate this yourself. 3. Offer to join her for doctor's appointments and take notes. Spend some time afterwards going over the information together. These conversations with doctors can be scary, overwhelming, and confusing. It helps to have someone jot it all down and then chat with about it after.
4. Collect gifts from friends, family and coworkers and present your friend with a big basket of gift-wrapped treats. They can be simple -- a gossip magazine, a bag of candy, some comfy socks, a great book -- but after a long day of chemo or a mailbox full of medical bills and health insurance statements, it can be just the boost she needs and it reminds her of the wonderful people who are thinking of her every day. 5. If you are having a hard time dealing with what your loved one is going through, consider a support group, or find others like you to speak with. It can be hard, and scary, to see someone you love fight this disease and sometimes that can be tough to handle. The stronger you feel, the stronger you can be for your loved one.
6. Don't let her forget how much you love her and are there for her. And I don't mean just in the beginning when all surgeries and treatments are happening, but also long after. Years after a diagnosis, there are follow-up appointments, tests, biopsies, and fears. There are milestones and celebrations. Be there for your friend through it all. 7. Participate in an Avon Walk for Breast Cancer to show your support! Tens of thousands of women and men join our Walks across the country to honor someone who is fighting breast cancer now, or to celebrate a survivor. It is an incredible weekend and an impactful way to contribute to the fight against breast cancer.
8. Keep these "don'ts" in mind. Don't say, "Oh, don't worry, your hair will grow back!" Don't give her any hair accessories (unless it's a scarf). Don't give her anything too fragrant (some people going through chemo become sensitive to smells). Don't say things like, "Well, at least you'll get some new boobs!" because quite honestly, we liked our old boobs and wish we could have kept them.