22 Ways to Support Someone with Breast Cancer as Told by Fighters & Survivors

"You have cancer."

No one wants to hear these words. Not for ourselves, and not for anyone we love. But in 2021, breast cancer became the most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide. In the United States alone, this year is estimated to see 330,840 women diagnosed with breast cancer. Another 2,650 men will also be diagnosed. (breastcancer.org)

When a friend or family member tells us they have breast cancer, the emotional impact is immediate and overwhelming.

What should I say? How can I help? What do I do?

I asked breast cancer survivors and caregivers to share the best ways to help when your loved one is fighting for her life. This is what they said...

Here are 22 ways to support someone who's battling breast cancer:

#1: Help keep things as normal as possible for their kids

"Meal train dinners for the family are not only helpful, but they bring a sense of excitement and anticipation to young kids at meal times." —Morgan B.

Breast cancer is most frightening for the patient, of course, but it can also create a lot of anxiety for any children in the home. Kids feel safest when their routines can continue uninterrupted. You can help by providing childcare, stocking the pantry, or shuttling young ones to and from their scheduled activities.

#2: Help them feel beautiful and put-together

"I met David Kibbe, a famous image professional, and he helped me to look stunning whilst I underwent some horrific body changes. He reminded me how beautiful I am!" —Leighah Beadle-Darcy

When someone's body is attacked by cancer, they can experience dramatic weight changes, painful burns from radiation, hair loss, weakness, scarring, breast loss, and countless other physical devastations. Shop with or for your loved one so they're never without clothes that fit and feel comfortable. Something as simple as a beautiful head scarf can be tremendously reassuring—both physically and emotionally—when someone's body is betraying them.

#3: Inspire peace and confidence in the process

"The best thing that anyone told me was that the radiotherapy machines were my friends, and I shouldn’t be scared of them (they are huge!)" —Andrea K.

It's completely natural to feel trepidation about undergoing cancer treatments. Don't ever deny someone's honest feelings; but do share encouragement when you can. If all you have to offer is, "I'll be with you the whole time," that can still diminish their fear and bolster their courage. 


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American Cancer Society will receive 100% of the proceeds from the sale of these BOOB/LOVE enamel bracelets from MINDD

#4: Share small, consistent kindnesses

"My mom is going through [breast cancer] right now. She gets cards, flowers, texts, and calls daily/weekly. That’s been the best for keeping her positive." —Heather M.

Grand gestures are delightful, but regular, personalized support is often more meaningful when someone is undergoing treatment. Set a calendar alert to text your friend every Wednesday, send a new book to read a couple times a month, or deliver their favorite smoothie on the weekends.

#5: Be an empathetic listener

"The best thing you can do is ask the question, 'How are you?' Then LISTEN to the answer. Talk about the hard things—or don’t, if that is what your friend needs." —Christine T.

If someone starts talking about their cancer experience, don't try to redirect them to "happier" topics. Instead, actively listen—and don't try to fix the situation or convince them to feel differently. Breast cancer is, in fact, terrible, and it's okay if all you can offer is your constant love and caring presence.

#6: Normalize talking about hard stuff

"When I was first diagnosed in the 80's, people didn’t talk about cancer. They didn’t even say the word 'breast’ in polite company. It was when people like Olivia Newton-John and Angelina Jolie started talking about it that it became more acceptable. And when I could see people who had survived breast cancer, it was such a relief." —Hilary Langford

If you already discuss your own challenges and fears, people will be more likely to trust you when they're going through their own difficulties. Work at being genuinely vulnerable, and you'll be better equipped to support others when they're suffering.

#7: Lighten the workload

"My job told me not to worry about FMLA paperwork until I went for my follow-up, and the HR Manager printed everything so I could pick it up on my way. They told me to take as much time as I needed to recover, and I received so many messages from coworkers wanting to know how I was doing, telling me to take care of myself, and asking what they could do to help while I was out." —Suzanne O.

When someone has cancer, they have enough stress to process without work pressing in on them. This is when coworkers and company leaders should lighten that individual's workload and assure them that their only job is to take care of themselves, both mentally and physically.

#8: Participate in fundraisers

"After I had my treatment, my workplace helped raise funds for breast cancer research." —Andrea K.

Hosting or participating in fundraisers is a generous, respectful way to support a sick colleague. Send them photos from the event along with a signed card from the team. People value knowing that they haven't been forgotten.

#9: Remember that treatment can take a long time

"Toward the end of chemo and after the surgeries, there is less help and attention because the cancer is 'old news,' but sometimes that's when help is most needed. Even having a friend come watch TV with me, hang out, and chat felt so comforting and normal." —Morgan B.

Don't let compassion fatigue set in. Pace yourself and prepare to support your loved one throughout what could be a lengthy illness.

#10: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all

"The least helpful thing was my surgeon telling me not to tell anyone about my cancers 'because no one will want to hire you if they think you are going to die on them.’" —Hilary Langford

Everything you think does not need to come out of your mouth, even if you believe it's the truth. Focus on how you can be supportive in the moment, and let tomorrow take care of itself.

#11: Don't demand time or attention

"Sometimes I just need to rest. Cancer is tiring. Also, I have certain things I want to achieve while I'm able—if I die I want to be able to say I did it! Of course, friendships are important, but I cannot be all things to all people at all times." —Leighah Beadle-Darcy

Don't insist on seeing someone every time you drop off food or give their kiddos a ride. Even if you feel especially close to the individual, it's best to check in with them before a visit. Simply send a text and ask, "Are you feeling up to a short visit today? If not, that's okay. I'm here for you no matter what!"

#12: Support the caregivers, because they're going through a lot, too

"I felt loved by my church community bringing dinner for two weeks to my house after the mastectomy. It was so beautiful, and it blessed my caregivers, which took a huge burden off me." —Lindy V.

Spouses, parents, children, and close friends are doing their utmost to support their loved one with cancer. Empower their efforts by making sure they're taken care of, too.

#13: Provide transportation

"One friend drove me to most of my chemo appointments. We had a routine of [stopping by the] cafeteria to pick up grits and hash browns before chemo. It felt like a brunch date (until the meds started.)" —Morgan B.

Most people undergoing cancer treatments will eventually reach a point where they're too tired, nauseous, weak, in pain, or overwhelmed to get themselves to and from appointments. Lessen their burden by signing up for regular chauffeur duty. Share the task with other friends so the individual never has to worry about how they'll get to treatment.

#14: Don't ask. Just do.

"I have been on the giving end of support to someone with breast cancer, and on the receiving end of support after losing a family member to cancer, and here’s what I’ll tell you: don’t ask if you can bring food—just bring the dang food." —Amanda D.

Some things simply need doing, and you don't have to make a big show out of it. Leave a lasagna at the door, text a caregiver that it's there, and leave. Or you could drop off a bag of dog food, or leave a plate of cookies for the kids. Food is a necessary part of life, and a prepared meal will always be gratefully accepted—especially if it's easy to freeze for later.

#15: Help with pet care

"My pets have been my absolute joy through the whole process. They continue to remind me how to live and love and be present." —Leighah Beadle Darcy

For most folks, their pets are an essential part of their family. When you help care for someone's beloved pets, you give them peace of mind and the freedom to rest. Offer to clean the litter box, walk the dog, feed the fish... Part of supporting your friend is supporting their animal companions, too.

#16: Gifts matters less than your ongoing presence

"It was incredible how many people told me they were praying during my procedure. My Facebook blew up with encouraging words and people saying they were answering my prayer request. That meant so much to me!" —Suzanne O.

Flowers are beautiful, but they have to be watered. And someone can only use so many fleece blankets or "F*ck Cancer" magnets. Instead, send regular notes of encouragement, and seek ways to help your loved one stay connected to their non-cancer self. From their favorite shows to their best-loved hobbies, anything that confirms their humanity is a terrific gift.

#17: Don't add to their financial strain

"My manager made sure I was paid and supported whilst off for mastectomy and reconstruction, even though I work for a charity who isn't required to provide sick pay. This saved me from the stress of having to apply for government money." —Leighah Beadle-Darcy

For cancer sufferers in the U.S., a breast cancer diagnosis often causes financial hardship or even bankruptcy. Consider ways to help financially, and don't ever do anything that could increase their financial burden.

#18: Reassure them of your unconditional love

"Emotionally, I had not prepared myself for what I was going to see when the bandage came off. Even as a licensed therapist myself, I had not mentally prepared myself for the 'unveiling.' It was awful, and I stood in the mirror and cried and cried. Thank God my husband was here to encourage me through it." —Suzanne O.

Partners have an important role to play when their loved one learns they have breast cancer. It may seem like a no-brainer to you, but your person needs to be reminded that you're there to help, that you don't see them as a burden, and that you're still madly in love with them. And as long as they're up to it, maintain the physical affection that help them feel loved. Touch has its own healing power, and that's especially true when it comes from a life partner.

#19: Help enable preventive treatments, too

"My breast cancer was diagnosed in the latter half of 2018. It was a mammogram that picked it up. My doctor decided to shrink the tumour with tablets first, then operated on me in 2019. I then had 15 rounds of radiotherapy. I am two years clear now!" —Andrea K.

Before treatment ever begins, there has to be a breast cancer diagnosis. Encourage your loved ones to get screened regularly, and help them with costs or logistics when necessary. Remember: early diagnoses are the best indicator of recovery!


>>> SHOP THE BRACELET <<<

100% of proceeds go to American Cancer Society.
American Cancer Society will receive 100% of the proceeds from the sale of these BOOB/LOVE enamel bracelets from MINDD

#20: Make hospital stays less boring

"When stuck in a room or hospital, it can get boring. Life is happening outside as usual, but without you. Any way to connect to the outside world is lovely. I had a friend bring me bagels at the hospital during a week-long stay, and my brother brought take-out food to the hospital because... ew, hospital food!" —Morgan B.

If you had to sit and stare at the same four walls day after day, you'd get bored, too! As long as the medical team approves, you can improve your loved one's hospital stay with a few simple gestures: 

  • bring them their favorite quilt from home
  • drop by with their favorite meal
  • gift them a pair of noise-cancelling headphones so they can tune out the hospital sounds and tune in to their favorite podcast

#21: Don't let victim-blamers anywhere near a breast cancer fighter

"[Someone insinuated that] I had given myself breast cancer by having 'unfinished business' I hadn't dealt with." —Hilary Langford

It's absurd and outrageous, but some people just love victim-blaming. If someone like this is in your loved one's circle, do whatever is necessary to keep their ugly, unhelpful energy away. Not only is it emotionally harmful, but it can actually impede a patient's physical recovery.

#22: Be the first to reach out

"It's hard to ask for help sometimes, so it's nice when someone reaches out to me, first." —Leighah Beadle-Darcy

If you've heard through the grapevine that someone has breast cancer, don't wait for them to contact you. Be proactive by sending them a private message of love and support. If you're not particularly close to the individual, they will still appreciate knowing that you're holding space for them as they fight what may be the most difficult battle of their life. 

If you or someone you love is battling breast cancer, share this.

Friends and family members often feel unsure of how to help, but you can encourage them to push past their fears. After all, the most loving thing we can do for one another is to simply show up.


READ NEXT: Our bras support boobs. Our bracelets battle breast cancer.


Author and MINDD maven Anne Simone is a writer, tattoo collector, and dog mom living in Baltimore, Maryland.