Breast cancer is still the most common cancer diagnosed in women, affecting 1 in 8 women in the United States. This year, there will be an estimated 268,600 new cases of invasive breast cancer. The good news is that treatments are becoming more effective and less invasive. Breast cancer deaths have declined by 40% since 1989 thanks to greater awareness and improvements in early detection.
But even with better treatment options, dealing with a cancer diagnosis can be super-stressful, even if it's not you facing the disease. Of course you want to provide comfort and support to someone who’s sick, but you may have a difficult time finding the right words. The stress and emotions of a cancer diagnosis may make you hesitate to say something.
It’s important to know that, even when you’re not sure what to say, your support can make a huge difference. Studies show that patients with strong emotional and social support networks are more resilient to stress - an important part of dealing with any illness. Here are four ways to show your support during this difficult and sensitive time.
It’s ok to admit you are unsure what to say. Listening without judgment and acknowledging it’s a scary situation can really help your loved one maintain a sense of optimism.
Learning about a disease is important, but not just so you can dole out advice. Rather, educating yourself can be a way of creating empathy and a better sense of what your loved one is going through. Reputable organizations such as the National Breast Cancer Foundation provide detailed information on the causes, treatments, side effects and other concerns related to a cancer diagnosis. Or if you’re looking for a way to support cancer research and treatment, the Susan G Komen foundation shows how you can help and get involved here.
Being a supporter when someone you care about is sick can take a lot of energy. Even though you’re not the one who’s sick, you may be facing fears and worries along with your loved ones. Don’t let the scary emotions stop you from being there. Being present can really help.
It’s ok to be happy or sad. Laughter is great medicine, but so is crying. Being present doesn’t mean not feeling the emotions that come with illness. It’s about working to feel them from a centered place. Do the work to face your own emotions with courage and trust, and let your loved ones know that you can handle them being emotional too.
Don't be afraid to make plans for the future with your friends and loved ones who are sick, even as you focus on staying in the moment. Take the initiative and find something you can do together that will help you both relax, such as going for a walk or taking a yoga class. During treatment, some patients may have trouble sleeping. Practicing yoga just twice a week has been linked to better quality sleep over time. Breathing, movement, and meditation practices can help calm the body and mind, allowing for deeper and easier sleep. Always check with a doctor before attending yoga and only do as much as is comfortable.
Whatever you do, remember that small actions matter. Mindset matters. Simple things like taking the time to write out a card by hand, buying a small gift, or participating in a fundraiser can show someone that being sick doesn’t mean being forgotten. Ultimately, we can’t control the illnesses that our loved ones face or the emotions and fears that those illnesses stir up. But we can always choose our mindset when facing these difficult times, and that makes a big difference.