We live in a world where the general five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 90%. That survival rate is proof of the scientific advancement and empathy focused on breast cancer research. Together, scientists, medical care providers, and patient advocates have saved countless lives through the improvements in treatment that they made possible. Sadly, none of this changes the fact that a breast cancer diagnosis has an immediate effect on the patient and everyone they love. But how do you go about helping a loved one with breast cancer?
Helping a Loved One with Breast Cancer
The truth is that the process of healing cancer is traumatizing by itself. Even with the best possible prognosis, your loved one will need you to approach the situation with empathy and competence, which is far from easy when you’re faced with the possibility of loss. Too many people take their response to an extreme, when what your loved one needs most is for you to be a reliable and relatively predictable part of their life. Fortunately, there are a few things you can keep in mind to make sure you’re actually helping your loved one.
It Isn’t About You
Receiving the news that a loved one is seriously ill is obviously heartbreaking. The mere idea of losing someone close to you is deeply upsetting, and you have every right to those feelings. You may even choose to join a support group and make an appointment with a therapist to work through them. However, you do have to remember that your loved one is facing their own mortality.
Throughout the entire process, it is vital to remember that your feelings are not a substitute for the patients. As someone they trust, it is your job to provide support. If they ask you how you are feeling, be honest. But don’t lose perspective. It is far too easy to get lost in your own pain and fear, so avoid making too many “I” statements with your loved one. Instead, leave the floor open for them to discuss their emotional state when they’re ready.
You can’t care for someone if you aren’t taking care of yourself. In the same way that you should be seeking counseling to deal with your emotional health, you should be putting time aside to take care of your physical health. Get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, and eat healthy meals at regular intervals.
If you’re living with or close to the patient, it is easy to include them in these activities. Staying relatively active and helping them to keep a healthy schedule won’t just improve their chance of recovery, but it will serve as a welcome distraction from everything else. During your time together, make it clear that you’re there to help. You may make suggestions of what might be useful, but always let them tell you what they actually want.
Roll with the Punches
Surgery and chemotherapy are necessary, but they put the body through a lot of stress. Bouts of depression and mood swings are a common occurrence in cancer patients. Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised if your loved one doesn’t always act like themselves. They might experience anger directed at their condition. They may feel helpless.
During these instances, it is important to stay realistic and positive. Telling them they’re “a fighter” doesn’t do anyone any good. Instead, lay out the things that they and the doctors are actively doing to improve the situation. Focus on the decisions and actions they have made to beat cancer. When you show people what they have actually done to make their lives better, you are offering an opportunity for empowerment that is more than mere words.
Listening is Key
As a rule of thumb, just remind yourself that as horrible as the situation is for you, it is even worse for them. Watching a loved one battle cancer is a humbling experience that is impossible to fully explain, but getting through it comes down to listening. Ask them what they want. Help them wherever possible. Don’t sacrifice your health, and be there for them when it’s time to make plans for the future. As long as you’re there to help support their emotional health, the team at Breast Health Institute Houston will help with the rest.