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Breast Cancer and Your Family and Friends

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on January 27, 2021

Being diagnosed with breast cancer has a big impact on your life, and on the lives of the people who will form your support network.

It’s important to understand that your loved ones have their own feelings to manage regarding your diagnosis and treatment. You may have feelings of fear, anger, sadness, guilt, helplessness, and anxiety, but so may your family and friends.

Ongoing communication about emotions and needs will help you and those you care about stay on track throughout your journey.

Get Educated Together

When you were diagnosed with breast cancer, you probably researched information about your condition and looked into your health care coverage. Odds are your loved ones were also trying to find information on what to expect and how best to help you.

One way to honor your relationship with them is to keep them in the loop. Make sure information about your breast cancer diagnosis, medical services available, and ongoing health updates gets shared with the people in your support circle. This helps them know what you may need, and it helps them with fear of the unknown.

Invite a close friend or family member to come with you when you go to appointments. They can ask your doctor questions and take notes to help you remember key details. They’ll have a chance to learn and you can ask them to share the information with others.

Be Willing to Adapt

One of the most practical issues your family will face is how to manage daily tasks and weekly activities as you go through treatment.

If your caregiver or a loved one offers to lend support, try to come up with a few tangible things they can do. It’s best to come up specific things. You might need help with child care, errands, household tasks, or even just having someone to talk to. If you can’t think of anything in the moment, ask them to check in later.

Remember that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. For example, some people are easier to talk to about your feelings, others are best at making you laugh, and some are good at child care, making food or running errands. Try to choose the right tasks for the right people. If you feel that someone is struggling with something they committed to do for you, maybe change things up next time. You could make a list of things you need help with and let them choose from it.

You’re managing a lot, but make sure to take the time to let the people who are supporting you know you appreciate them, and that you don’t want them to neglect their own lives or health.

Keep Good Communication

As you go through treatment your needs will change. You may have some weeks where you need more help than others. Communicating that to family and friends is key. Some things might be hard or awkward to discuss, but it’s better to bring them up sooner rather than later, before they become bigger issues.

Here are a few common topics for you to keep an open dialogue about:

  • Changing responsibilities and how to adjust to new family roles when it comes to daily tasks, chores, errands, events, and activities.
  • Setting the right expectations for what everyone is able to do given their personal needs, mental state, and physical limitations.
  • Money matters, including how to pay for potential medical costs and living expenses.
  • Thoughts about your next steps for medical care. It could be you and your partner have different opinions. It’s good for you to listen to each other.
  • Feelings. At different times, you or your loved ones may feel overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed. Keep tabs on how each other is doing and talk through things.

At first, you may find it difficult to talk about these things, but over time, it will get easier. It will help you get the support you need, and it will help them to know how best to help.

You or your loved ones may say or do the wrong thing sometimes, but keep in mind, everyone is on the same team. Be patient with each other as you learn how to navigate your new roles and life together.

Seek Outside Help

It’s important to remember that no one is in this alone. When you or someone in your support group feels overwhelmed, it may mean it’s time to seek outside help together. You could go for counseling or seek a support group.

Ask the hospital where you’re getting treated if they have any psychologists or mental health professionals on staff who work with doctors to help your family make decisions together.

Others have been and are going through what you’re going through. Ask hospital staff about support groups that meet in your area or check the websites of breast cancer organizations to see if they host any online groups for patients or caregivers.

Online communities and services hosted by nonprofit organizations have tools designed to help you and your loved ones with things like planning care calendars, finding volunteers, and managing your day-to-day schedule.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES

Susan G. Komen: “Co-Survivor,” “Family & Friends.”

American Cancer Society: “If You’re About to Become a Cancer Caregiver.”

National Cancer Institute: “Planning for the Caregiver,” “Family Issues after Treatment,” “Coping with Cancer: Changes for the Family,” “Support for Caregivers of Cancer Patients.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Cancer and the Family.”

Yale Cancer Center: “The Emotional Impact Of A Cancer Diagnosis.”

Roswell Park Cancer Center: “Importance of a Strong Support System.”

University of Chicago Medicine: “Caring for a Loved One with Cancer.”

University of Michigan Medicine, Rogel Cancer Center: “Family and Friends Influence Breast Cancer Treatment Decisions.”

American Psychological Association: “Getting beyond ‘Why me?’”

Gorman, L. M. Psychosocial nursing care along the cancer continuum: "The psychosocial impact of cancer on the individual, family, and society."

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