Every day Sharsheret fields questions from family members and friends about how to best support the woman they love while she is facing breast cancer or ovarian cancer. Here are some helpful tips based on the wisdom from the women of Sharsheret.
1. Follow her lead
Let your loved one share the information she chooses to share in the way that is most comfortable for her. It is not necessary to ask her a lot of medical questions. What is important is being a good listener. Listening is a caring gesture that shows you support her.
2. Validate her feelings
The woman you love may be experiencing a range of emotions. Whether she is scared, sad, empowered, or grateful, it’s important to validate her feelings. While it’s tempting to share stories about other people with cancer or offer “pep talks,” remember that this is her experience and she will set the emotional tone at any given time.
3. Let her make the decisions
When your family member or friend is diagnosed with cancer, she may feel like circumstances are out of her control. In the areas where she can maintain control, let her do so. Remember that each of us handles challenging situations differently. Some people want to learn as much information as they can about their illness, while others would rather just be told the minimum of what they need to know to get through the experience. Whichever approach your loved one takes, it is the right one for her.
You may not agree with her surgical or treatment decisions, but they are her’s to make. Let her decide which household or family responsibilities she is willing to delegate. You can gently offer suggestions or help her think things through out loud but, in the end, support the decisions she makes.
4. Create your own support system
Although the woman you love is the one diagnosed with cancer, her journey will have a tremendous impact on you. It’s important to develop your own support system, whether it is a friend, colleague, religious guide, or mental health professional. Remember, by taking good care of yourself, you will be better able to support the woman you love.
5. Life beyond cancer
The woman you love may not want to feel like a cancer patient 24/7. It’s okay to share the happenings in your life, updates about your family, what’s happening in the community, the plot of a favorite book or television show. She may be seeking to experience life beyond cancer when engaged in her daily activities and routines. Allow her to take the lead and avoid overwhelming her with questions about her illness or treatment. Remember, too, that her family members may also want to experience life beyond cancer and are not a conduit for information about how their loved one is coping.