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Knowing how to help someone with breast cancer can be tricky, which is why we worked with Dorothy Perkins to speak with four women about the kinds of support that they most appreciate.
Charlotte was diagnosed with breast cancer last November at the age of 26. She had chemotherapy and a mastectomy with reconstruction, and is currently having radiotherapy.
I was given the news over the phone. Initially, I wasn't actually shocked. It felt more like validation, because I’d had several doctors tell me I was too young for cancer. After that, I had some tests to see how advanced the cancer was, and thankfully it hadn’t spread beyond my breast.
Before I started treatment, I had two rounds of IVF for fertility preservation, just as a backup plan for my future. Then I started chemotherapy, which was obviously tough, but I managed to get through it.
My biggest support throughout all of this has been my family. I had to move back in with my parents so they could help me out. There were days when I couldn’t get out of bed due to exhaustion, so my mum would bring me food and drinks. Just having that comfort was so helpful.
I also have friends who kept me buoyant, happy and distracted when all the bad stuff was going on. They constantly checked in on me, and sent messages and gifts in the post to make sure I knew they were thinking about me.
For anyone who has a loved one going through breast cancer, there are a number of practical ways to help. Flowers and chocolates are lovely, but what I appreciated most was my mum coming round to clean my house after surgery.
Being there for someone during their appointments and treatments helps, too. I had to go alone due to the pandemic, but having lots of video chats and messages mitigated that a bit.
I also found a lot of support through the online community, and have made friends for life through Instagram. Plus, the information from Breast Cancer Now’s website really helped me get my head around everything. If you ever find yourself needing support, you can always reach out to Breast Cancer Now and use the services they provide.
Nicky is 33 and has been living with secondary breast cancer since 2018. She first knew something was wrong while undergoing IVF treatment.
I knew in my gut that something wasn’t right. My nipples had started to invert and I had a bit of dimpling on my skin. I called my GP – which I implore everyone to do if you ever notice a change – and was seen the next day. Two weeks later, I was diagnosed with primary breast cancer.
In the meantime, my IVF failed and the back pain I’d been experiencing for four months wasn’t getting better despite treatment. When I mentioned this, I was sent off for a PET scan.
A week later, I went to meet my breast surgeon to find out whether I was going to have a mastectomy. It was then I found out that my cancer had already spread to my bones and become incurable. I started treatment the next day.
Secondary breast cancer is very different to primary. The treatment never ends. The way that my treatment works is I will take a particular drug until it stops working, and the reason it stops working is that the cancer is clever enough to mutate.
The most practical way to support someone with secondary breast cancer is to be present and to make yourself available. Don’t forget that the person going through that cancer diagnosis is still the person that they were before that, so keep treating them as you would before. Take them out for lunch, invite them for drinks, watch a film at their house. You could also accompany them to hospital appointments.
Also, don’t forget that we have cancer. Sometimes we may not look unwell, but what we have will not go away. We need support until the day comes that we have to leave, so don’t forget what we’re going through.
Selin was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer when she was just 23 years old. She finished her treatment earlier this year.
I woke up one morning with an itch under my breast. When I went to scratch it, I felt a small lump. I didn’t really know anything about breast cancer, so I had no idea about what was coming.
The person who supported me most during my treatment was my mum – she was there for me every step of the way. I couldn’t do much for myself during chemotherapy, so she would do things like make my dinner. Helping with the little things that we don’t think about day to day can mean a lot to someone going through something as gruelling as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
One of the biggest forms of support for me came from social media – I didn’t realise how big the breast cancer community was.
Taking part in this campaign with Dorothy Perkins and Breast Cancer Now has been really fun and exciting. It’s so important to raise awareness of breast cancer and how to provide support to those who need it.
Shevelle was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in 2019 at the age of 28. While undergoing chemotherapy and a mastectomy, she found support from her close family and online.
Finding out I had breast cancer was a shock. My grandmother had passed away from breast cancer 18 months earlier, and I was taught that it really only happened in women over 50.
Because it was triple negative, my only option was to have chemotherapy. I had 16 rounds and found it extremely hard. I lost all my hair and was constantly tired.
My mum and my uncle came to every chemo appointment, which helped me so much. It was so important to be surrounded by people who could make me laugh while going through something that was quite traumatic. My daughter would always make me smile as well, especially when I had no hair or eyebrows – she would try to do my makeup, which was hilarious.
When I was first diagnosed, one of the first places I turned to was Breast Cancer Now. It was great to be able to think of a question in my head, go to the website and find it had already been answered. The weekly Instagram lives from the breast care nurses were also amazing, especially as it meant I could hear from women who’d gone through the same as me. Seeing them, I realised I would be able to make it out the other side.
Even now, I still interact with people in the online breast cancer community. It’s great to see people living normal lives either with or after breast cancer.
The most supportive thing you can do for a loved one with a breast cancer diagnosis is just to check in on them every day. Even when I couldn’t respond to messages or phone calls, I appreciated them.
My mum would also cook dinner or take my daughter out for the day – little things that allowed me to have some free time during such a crazy experience. That meant the most to me.
Breast Cancer Now and Dorothy Perkins are working together to show how you can support a loved one affected by breast cancer. Half the purchase price of each product from the ‘Together We Are Powerful’ collection will help fund world-class research and life-changing care.
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