Helping Your Loved One

Authored by: Leslie Clarke, Nurse Navigator at the IU Health Joe & Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center in CarmelBreast Cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. According to the National Breast Cancer Foundation, one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, making it the most common cancer in American women. In addition, one in around 800 men in their lifetime will also be diagnosed. When a friend or family member is diagnosed, many of us feel helpless to know how to help. Here are a few ways you may support a loved one through this journey.

Assist with practical needs.

It may be difficult for your loved one to complete all the tasks of everyday life while undergoing treatment. Offer assistance with simple activities like gardening, grocery shopping, cooking, driving to and from appointments or dropping kids off at school. These tasks may seem small individually but will allow daily life to continue uninterrupted.

Listen more than you speak.

Sharing the story of your “best friend’s cousin who had breast cancer” may only increase anxiety levels for your loved one. There are many forms of breast cancer, and each has a different treatment journey. A better approach may be to ask, “Did your doctor discuss why they recommend this treatment plan?” This also helps to serve as a review for your loved one because historically, people do not remember the majority of what they are told in the office.

Offer emotional support.

Breast cancer can cause a person to go through a wide range of psychological and physical changes, which may cause immeasurable emotional distress. You can offer emotional support by being present without being asked. Do not just offer help once and expect them to call on you when they need something. Every person has different needs and certainly some people are very private. However, a phone call or visit “just to check in” will let your loved one know you are available and you care.

Continue support after treatment is completed.

Many patients tell us that once treatment was completed, friends expressed ,“That is behind you and you can get back to normal life.” We must recognize that breast cancer causes lifetime changes. Each time a “breast cancer survivor” has a follow up exam, an imaging test or even common aches and pains, the first thought is frequently, “Is it back?” Knowing that you understand and are there to support them may make all the difference.

The IU Health Joe & Shelly Schwarz Cancer Center offers several free support groups for patients, survivors and friends and family members. Visit to learn more.

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