How to Help a Friend Through Breast Cancer
- Friday, October 04, 2013
9. Bring her a gift that makes her feel feminine.
10. If she feels like talking, sit and chat with her. When she doesn’t feel like talking, just be a presence in her home so she doesn’t feel alone.
11. Babysit her kids so she and her husband can have some private time.
12. Clean her house or pay someone to do it.
13. Go with her to pick out a wig or prosthesis.
14. Pick up prescriptions.
15. Run errands.
My first surgery and treatment extended over the Christmas holidays, and we had six grandchildren at that time. I had bought their presents already but couldn’t imagine wrapping them. So my friend took all the presents home and wrapped them, as well as organizing other friends to deliver meals for three months. During my recuperation, she sat on my bed with my laptop, read my emails to me, and then sent my dictated answers. Later, she accompanied me to radiation, fixed my hair when I had a frozen shoulder, and stuck beside me through the entire cancer ordeal, even though she admits that her first reaction to my phone call on that dreaded diagnosis day was, “Lord, I don’t want to do this.” God assured her that she could do it, and she did.
Don’t Say, “I’ll Pray For You,” Unless You Mean It
At church a couple came up to greet my husband and me and asked if they could pray for us. That meant so much to me as we wrapped our arms around each other, and there on the church patio, this precious couple prayed for my recovery and Dave’s strength for the journey. When we finished, the wife asked where we needed help. I hesitated because I knew this woman didn’t like to cook, but Dave quickly interjected, “We could use a meal.” She didn’t flinch. She said they would be over the next night with dinner, and they were…and they prayed for us again.
“I’ll pray for you” is said too often with the casualness of “Have a nice day.” But a promise to pray isn’t just a feel good phrase. We are telling someone that we will petition God on her behalf, and we are living falsely if we don’t. I find it’s best to stop in the moment and pray right then. It keeps me honest and blesses the other person.
Helping Her Enjoy the Good Days
Be Happy with Her When She’s Happy
Cancer is a grim word. Overnight life becomes serious, tense, and laden with fear. There is very little laughter during those first shocking days following the “dreaded diagnosis.” But life continues and there are going to be good days interspersed with the bad. An insightful friend will capitalize on the moments of reprieve when there is an opportunity to laugh or smile. Be ready, because it may only last a moment, but the break from pain and fear is immeasurable.
If your friend is having an especially good day, avoid topics that you know will bring her down. You aren’t minimizing or making light of the seriousness of the situation, but you are giving her a recess from the intensity. Don't fake happiness, but take advantage of humorous or lighter moments. Smile. Laugh. Be happy. Don’t let the serious eclipse the humorous.
I remember laughing at myself one day in the shower when I realized that I was so carefully not shaving under my left arm because of the lymph node surgery, that I also wasn’t shaving my left leg. I frequently retold that story so people could laugh with me.
Nurture the Little Girl Inside Her
When I was in the hospital, the nurse in charge of the breast-care unit gave me a white stuffed toy sheep named “Fleece.” Taking Fleece with me everywhere, I held him as a shield in front of my sore breast, tucked him under my arm as an armrest, and snuggled next to him in bed. For six months, I indulged my childish need for security and no one chastised me for it. In fact, they acted like it was normal. And I discovered when I was writing my book, Dear God, They Say It’s Cancer, that it was normal! One woman who shared her story in the book had a black stuffed sheep named “Lamby” that she cuddled in her hospital bed. Another received a baby-sized pillow, and she recalls, “That pillow became a part of my wardrobe for eighteen months.”
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