October 26th is National Make a Difference Day, an annual community service event when millions of people unite in the common mission to improve the lives of others. We’re also still in the midst of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so let’s combine the two and talk about ways to make a difference in the life of someone with breast cancer.
When someone you care about is facing a scary diagnosis or health crisis, it's common to not know what to say, or worry about saying the wrong thing. A simple “I’m so sorry this is happening to you”, or “What are you thinking of doing, and how can I help” is fine! Keep in mind that many of us feel much more comfortable giving help than receiving it, and don't want to ‘bother’ anyone or be a burden, so we’ll automatically turn down offers from people to help, even when we really could use it.
Here are a few ideas of ways you can support your friend or loved one:
Be specific and sincere. Instead of saying ‘Let me know if you need anything’, or ‘How can I help’, offer to do something specific. Useful things could be:
-offering a ride to an appointment
-if they have kids, watching their children, or picking up or dropping off from school
-cleaning their house
-running errands, like picking up prescriptions
-walking their dog
-going grocery shopping
-making and dropping off a meal
-organizing a meal train
-raking their leaves or tending their garden
-go for a walk together
Stay in their life, and check in. Friendships and support are so important when someone is facing a difficult diagnosis or health scare, and so helpful for the healing process. Keep visits short, and always check in first to be sure they are up for a visitor.
If you would like to get them something, ask what would be helpful! If they are going through chemo, a warm blanket, comfy socks, or a soft hat. Maybe gift cards for gas or groceries, a housecleaning service, to purchase downloadable music or reading material.
Stop calling, or avoid them because you don’t know what to say. It’s better to say ‘I don’t know what to say’, than to just stop calling because you feel uncomfortable.
Say you know just how they feel, that they shouldn’t worry, or that you are sure they will be fine.
Make the cancer the focus of every conversation. Sometimes they’ll need a break from talking about it. Allow for sadness and uncomfortable feelings, but having a normal conversation and even laughing and sharing jokes can be very welcome.
Take it personally if they want privacy, or cancel plans you made. Everyone processes things differently, and they may need more alone time than usual, or just be feeling tired or worn out from their treatments.
Feel compelled to try to cheer them up if they are crying. Simply telling them that it’s ok to be sad, and you are there for them, will speak volumes.
Offer advice or compare their situation to somebody else you know (and this should go without saying, but especially if that other person had a negative outcome. When my sister had leukemia, I can't tell you how many people said 'oh, my aunt/uncle/cousin/grandparent died from that.' Not helpful!!!)
Tell them to stay strong or stay positive- it may put pressure on them to try to keep up appearances when they are actually sad or exhausted.
It’s often the little things that make a difference. Even just sending your friend a text to let her know you’re thinking about her, and asking how she is doing, will mean the world. What are some of your favorite ways to help a friend? (Or most thoughtful thing that someone has done for you)?