Caregiver support, Living with Breast Cancer, Perspectives, Survivor & Caregiver

Supporting a loved one with breast cancer


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By The Edith Sanford team

October 23, 2014

1-in-8-memeYou know that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. This means someone you know and love will likely face a life or death fight.

How can you give a loved one battling cancer the support they need? We’ve assembled some advice on how to help.

Be there

Everyone has been in a situation where you wanted to comfort someone, but the right words just wouldn’t come. Often this manifests in avoiding a friend when they need you the most.

Instead of stressing about saying the right thing, focus on being there. Don’t run away. Visit. Call. Even if you can’t think of a thing to say, just be present.

Comfort in, dump out

When someone close to you is facing breast cancer, you may find yourself wanting to express your sadness and fear to them. Don’t. Remember this simple adage: Comfort In, Dump Out.

Psychologist Susan Silk developed the “Ring Theory” of how to express yourself during a crisis.

ring-theory-graphicDraw a circle. This is the center ring. In it, put the name of the person at the center of the current trauma.

Now draw a larger circle around the first one. In that ring put the name of the person next closest to the trauma.

Repeat the process as many times as you need to. In each larger ring put the next closest people. Parents and children before more distant relatives. Intimate friends in smaller rings, less intimate friends in larger ones.

Here are the rules. The person in the center ring can say anything she wants to anyone, anywhere. She can kvetch and complain and whine and moan and curse the heavens and say, “Life is unfair!” and “Why me?” That’s the one payoff for being in the center ring.

Everyone else can say those things too, but only to people in larger rings.

When you are talking to a person in a ring smaller than yours, someone closer to the center of the crisis, the goal is to help. Listening is often more helpful than talking. But if you’re going to open your mouth, ask yourself if what you are about to say is likely to provide comfort and support. If it isn’t, don’t say it.

If you want to scream or cry or complain, if you want to tell someone how shocked you are or how icky you feel, or whine about how it reminds you of all the terrible things that have happened to you lately, that’s fine. It’s a perfectly normal response. Just do it to someone in a bigger ring.

Comfort IN, dump OUT.

Don’t wait to be asked

“Call me if you need anything.” We’ve all said it to someone facing a challenge. And we may mean well, but this kind offer puts the onus of asking for help on a person who may already be sensitive to being perceived as a burden.

Instead, tell your friend that you’re bringing dinner on Wednesday, doing the school pick up, or coming over this weekend to clean. Offer the assistance that is needed most, and don’t make the patient ask.

When it comes to supporting a friend or loved one with breast cancer, or any serious illness, it can be difficult to know what to say or do. Don’t let uncertainty stop you from reaching out and offering real help when it’s needed most.

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