Family, friends and carers

Different people react in different ways to distressing news.

Finding out a person you love has breast cancer can be as overwhelming and distressing for partners, family and friends as it is for the patient.

After the initial shock of “why her?” you will probably then wonder “what can I do?”

There is in fact quite a lot that you can do to help, but first you need to deal with your own feelings. It helps if you know the facts. This website is a good place to start with lots of information about many different topics, plus links to other sites that may be of use.

It is important to know that you can’t assume your loved one will take in or understand everything her medical support team tells her as she is under significant stress. Therefore it’s a good idea to go to meetings and appointments with her and run through everything that was said again afterwards.

Click here for a list of questions you may like to ask the doctor. It’s also a good idea to take notes or ask for information in writing.

Some practical suggestions:
  • Listen – you don’t necessarily need to have any answers.
  • Women who have been newly diagnosed with breast cancer often suffer from insomnia. If you are happy to be woken up physically or by telephone in the early hours of the morning, tell her that!
  • Offer support – but don’t necessarily wait to be asked – most women find it hard to ask for help but a home -cooked meal wouldn’t be rejected.
  • Let her know you care – give her small gifts – a posy of flowers, some hand cream, chocolate, a CD or DVD a bottle of “bubbles”. Take her out for a coffee.
  • Provide some practical help – offer to drive her to appointments, clean the bathroom, pick up the children from school, etc. Listen for clues of how to help.
  • Cry with her, laugh with her, listen to her.
  • Be there for the family too – they have to deal with this also.
Some things NOT to do:
  • Don’t stay away! Your family member/friend needs to know that she is loved and supported.
  • Don’t tell her horror stories. Don’t relate the negative experiences of others you may have known who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Don’t offer platitudes – like “there must be a reason”, you must be positive, etc
  • Don’t judge or criticise her choices of treatment – be her friend – it is her choice.
  • Don’t give up if you are rebuffed – try not to be hurt if this woman that you love seems to push you away. Continue to keep in contact no matter how difficult.
Self care for family, friends and carers
  • Be kind to yourself – acknowledge that you are human and don’t have all the answers.
  • Ask for help when you need it
  • Take care of your own health. You will need to be fit if you are going to travel the journey with your loved one.
  • Find a trusted friend or relative who can help support you.
  • If there are children, include them. Give them as much information as is reasonable for their age. Children are quick to pick up when something is not right so don’t pretend otherwise.
  • Keep the school or child care centre informed about what is happening so that staff can be aware of special needs.
  • Similarly, inform someone in your workplace, perhaps a supervisor or close colleague.
  • Try to have balance in your life - maintain family life as much as possible.
Husbands supporting their partners

The news that a loved one has been diagnosed with breast cancer is a harrowing experience and men feel the pain no less than women. Cancer Australia has dedicated resources to support the partners of those affected by breast cancer.

'When the woman you love has early breast cancer' and 'When the woman you love has secondary breast cancer' are both available as an audio track or a downloadable PDF. 

For more information visit the Cancer Australia website.