If a friend or family member has been diagnosed with breast cancer, there are a number of things you can do to help or support them.

1. Practical support
2. Emotional support
3. Support for you

Our information for partners also has tips on talking to, listening to and supporting someone with breast cancer.

1. Practical support

Many people want to carry on doing as much as possible during their treatment. However, side effects can often make it more difficult to continue with everyday tasks and asking for help is not always easy.

Knowing how to help can sometimes be difficult. As well as thinking about what your friend or family member might need help with, it’s important to think about what you’re able to do and how much time you’re able to commit. 

Offering specific help means both parties understand what’s on offer. For example, rather than saying ‘What can I do for you?’ it might be better to say ‘Would you like me to pick the children up from school tomorrow?’. 

Things you might offer to help with include:

  • cleaning and vacuuming
  • clothes washing and ironing
  • gardening
  • cooking meals for freezing
  • transport to and from hospital appointments
  • taking children to or from school
  • babysitting

Some people may be reluctant to accept help or even feel embarrassed about the help that’s being offered. This can sometimes feel hurtful, but it’s important to some people to maintain a sense of normality and to continue to do things even when doing so is very difficult. 

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2. Emotional support

Most people are shocked to hear they have breast cancer and experience many different emotions including anger, fear, sadness and depression. 

Feelings can change from day to day and even hour to hour. It’s often difficult to know what to say and how best to support someone.

Just being alongside someone and allowing them to express how they’re feeling is probably one of the most important ways of supporting them. 

Try not to be afraid of tears that may be shed – it may be a helpful way for your friend or relative to express how they’re feeling. If it’s appropriate, holding hands or giving them a hug is a useful way of showing your support.

If someone is feeling angry about their diagnosis they may direct this at you. This can be hurtful – particularly if you’re trying to support them. But try to remember this is often because they’re upset about having cancer, rather than being upset with you.

Listening to your friend or relative talk about how they’re feeling can sometimes be difficult or distressing, but it might be really helpful to them to express how they’re feeling.

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3. Support for you

Supporting a friend or relative can be very demanding and upsetting. To be able to continue to support your friend or relative, you need to look after yourself. 

Depending on how involved you are it’s important to eat well, get some regular exercise and a good night’s sleep and have some time to yourself. 

If you’re finding it difficult to do these things and are feeling overwhelmed, let a friend, family member or your GP know.

There are a number of places you can turn to for additional support, including:

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Last reviewed: November 2018
Next planned review begins underway

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