Supporting a friend with breast cancer

Supporting a friend with breast cancer

For Sandra Washington, October means many things. She enjoys the fall leaves coming down despite the crisp temperatures, but ultimately it means it is time for her annual mammogram.

“It’s something I do every year,” says Washington, 74, who receives her mammograms at Advocate Trinity Hospital in Chicago. “It became especially important two years ago when my best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is doing well and we are just encouraging her and she encourages me.”

When a friend or family member is diagnosed with breast cancer, the support you give that person can be essential to their overall mindset. The American Cancer Society offers a few tips on how to support a loved one:

  • Express encouragement, support and just listen. Sometimes the simplest expressions of concern are the most meaningful.
  • Be careful not to show false optimism or tell the person with cancer to always stay positive. Doing these things might seem to discount their very real fears, concerns or sad feelings.
  • Humor: Using humor can be an important way of coping. It can relieve stress.
  • Confidentiality: Respecting privacy is very important. If someone tells you that they have cancer, you should never tell anyone else unless they have given you permission.
  • Self-awareness: Feeling sorry for them, or feeling guilty for being healthy yourself are normal responses. But by turning those feelings into offerings of support you make the feelings useful.

“You can’t go through this alone,” says Dr. Burnetta Herron, a general surgeon at Advocate Trinity Hospital. “You need a strong support system and people you can rally around you.”

Brenda Williams-James, 62, a care management assistant at Advocate Trinity Hospital, knows the importance of having a strong family and friend support since being diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing a modified large lumpectomy.

“Cancer is a very scary thing,” says Williams-James, a Country Club Hills, Ill., resident. “When you hear the word, everything goes black. My sister came from Mississippi and my daughter was there to help me through everything. They helped me pray and keep my faith strong and my spirits up. I could even joke with the doctor when he told me I would need to have my right breast taken out. I told him he could have the left, too, if he wanted. I was trying to do anything to keep my mind off of the surgery, and sometimes comedy truly is the best medicine.”

To learn more about breast health, visit Stories of the Girls.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.