7 Essential Steps for Getting Support During Breast Cancer Treatment

Here is 7 Essential Steps for Getting Support During Breast Cancer Treatment

When you’re undergoing treatment for metastatic HR-positive/HER2-negative breast cancer, it can be hard to ask for help. This is especially true if you’re used to being the helper, not the person asking for help.

That’s how Melissa S. felt when she began treatment for HR-positive/HER2-negative breast cancer in 2012. “My radiology oncologist told me I would not be able to operate at 100 percent and would need help from friends and family,” says the mom of one who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

As difficult as it can be to ask for assistance, leaning on loved ones is crucial as you undergo breast cancer treatment. “Let me know if you need anything” offers from friends and family may seem noncommittal, but trust that they do want to help in any way they can.

Follow these steps to get the support you need and let the people who care be there for you.

1. Designate a Copilot

It’s great when a lot of people want to help, but managing their offers can actually become a source of stress. It’s a good idea to off-load this task to someone you trust, whether that’s your spouse, sibling, or adult children, suggests Michelle Riba, MD, director of the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center PsychOncology Program in Ann Arbor.

Have them start a group email, where they can answer people’s questions and let them know how they can help as your treatment progresses. People will want to know your food preferences and the best times to stop by, for example, and you simply won’t have the time or energy to get back to everyone, Dr. Riba explains.

2. Be Specific

When asking for help, be specific with your requests, says Riba. For example, if people keep bringing you dinner, but you’re more tired in the mornings, speak up. Let them know premade breakfasts would be more helpful. It’s better to specify your needs than end up with a dozen frozen lasagnas you can’t or won’t eat.

If you (or your family) have any allergies, dietary restrictions, or food aversions from chemo, be sure to tell them that, too. If you have the energy, you can even make shopping lists to share with friends and family.

Your loved ones will appreciate knowing they’re being helpful, rather than having to guess what you want or need.

3. Delegate Practical Tasks

As much as you may want to maintain your normal routine, you’ll still need help with certain chores and activities.

Some things that become difficult to manage during treatment include:

  • Transportation to and from appointments (or anywhere)
  • Pharmacy runs to pick up medications
  • Household chores such as laundry and cleaning
  • Lawn care
  • Grocery shopping and meal prep
  • Kids’ school and extracurricular activity pickups and drop-offs
  • Childcare while you’re getting treatments, at work, or resting

Ask a loved one to take over these tasks, so you can get them off your plate.


4. Bring Someone to Appointments

In addition to helping you get to and from appointments, a friend or family member can be a critical second set of eyes and ears at each visit. Ask your loved one to take notes, ask questions, and help you manage medications. Or, they can simply keep you company during treatments and support you when you get scans.

5. Seek Help With Social Situations

Not everything you need help with will involve practical things, such as errands and transportation. Sometimes, you’ll need social support with things like taking your kids to the library or the movies. “I had a patient whose friend took [the patient’s] daughter shopping for a prom dress,” says Riba. “They FaceTimed with the mom from the store, and she really appreciated it.”

Similarly, participating in some social situations can be more stressful during treatment. Sally Wolf, a 48-year-old corporate well-being adviser who was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2015, recounts avoiding communal snacks at an event, because she was immunocompromised and worried about contamination. Someone suggested she eat first, before anyone had touched the food. “I was incredibly touched,” she says. “Some of the smallest things can deliver shifts that help us participate more fully in the world.”

6. Set Boundaries

Friends are going to want to visit you, Riba says. While their intentions are good, sometimes it can become a burden, especially if you’re too tired after treatment or need to host people from out of town.

It’s okay to tell loved ones you aren’t up for a visit or ask people to stay in a hotel if they aren’t local. Knowing your limits and setting boundaries is especially important when you need to focus on your health.

7. Ask for Emotional Support

Let people know important dates, such as scans and treatments or anniversaries of cancer milestones, and ask them to be there for you. When you’re having a bad day, ask someone to listen to you vent. By inviting people in, you eliminate any concerns they may have about bringing up your treatment and being too intrusive.

“I often say, ‘It’s my body, but my family’s cancer,’” Wolf says. “We have a divide-and-conquer approach, so no one person is always ‘on call.’ For example, my brother is always present when I receive scan results, which helps me remember I’m not alone in this journey.”



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