family, friends

& carers

When a relative or close friend receives a diagnosis of advanced breast cancer, it can be upsetting but you can play a tremendous part in helping them deal with the diagnosis and how it will affect their lives. Very often close friends and family members find it hard to know how to help and support someone with advanced Breast cancer. Hopefully you will find the following information and tips useful.


  • Offer to go with them to their medical appointments – just being there for support can offer comfort and reassurance as there can be a lot to deal with especially on the first appointment. The person might be overwhelmed with the amount of information and sometimes cannot take it all in. You can help with this by taking notes and writing down all the important information so the person can look at it later on.
  • Learn about their illness – often information on medical or support websites relates to the illness itself but it is important to remember that all people are different and experiences will differ for each person.
  • Ask them how their illness makes them feel and how it affects their daily life – you will be in a better position to offer help and support based on the information that they give you.
  • Let them know that you are thinking of them – sending them a letter, text or email can show them that you care.
  • Do not wait for them to ask with help in carrying out a particular task – they will not want to feel like a burden especially if they are normally independent. Offering to do their shopping, cooking or even picking up the children from school can be a massive help and can again show them that you care.
  • Be there for them when they want to vent or just talk about how they are feeling – often all that they want is for people to listen and be understanding when they are not feeling themselves.
  • Try not to treat them any differently because of their illness, they do not want to be known as the sick person – the condition does not define who they are and they are the same person underneath the illness.
  • Do not wait for them to call or text you after they have been for results from a scan or blood test – remembering the appointment and contacting them before and afterwards will show that you care and was thinking of them.
Sometimes it is difficult to know what to say to a person with a chronic illness such as advanced breast cancer and there are certain things that you should not say. We have listed a few here:
  • Oh you look really well or do not look sick – some people may take this a compliment but people with a chronic illness may not see it that way. People with advanced breast cancer may not always look sick as many of the side effects of the treatments/illness are invisible, such as fatigue, pain and depression.
  • I know how you feel or I can relate to what you are going through – no, because unless you have been through the same or similar illness you will not have experienced or have any understanding of what they are going through.
  • When does your treatment finish – chances are that they will be on continuous treatment or waiting for a new treatment plan. If a person is not currently on any treatment or medication do not assume that their treatment is over for good.
  • Will this current treatment cure you or make you feel better – there is no cure for advanced breast cancer, it can only be controlled and maintained with treatment. The reality for advanced breast cancer patients is that they will not get better over time.
  • It is all in the mind – positive thinking may help them deal with the reality of having advanced breast cancer but it is not a cure for illness.
  • Have you lost/gained weight, you look great – again this may be meant as a compliment but weight loss or gain can be a side effect of treatment and can often make them feel self-conscious and unhappy about the way they look.
  • Have you tried eating different types of food or taking alternative medicines, for example, they say that they are very good for people with your illness – please leave medical advice to the professionals. Giving the wrong advice could be very dangerous and will not be good for the person at all.
  • I wish there was something I could do to take your pain away – if there was something that could be done, the trained medical team would have suggested it.
  • I wish I had the luxury of staying in bed or sleeping all day – often this is not a luxury but a necessity especially if they have just had their treatment.
Listed below are some of the things that you could say instead:
  • Please help me to understand – asking questions about the illness and how it affects them will give you a better understanding of what they are going through and how you can help them.
  • How can I help – helping them with everyday tasks or even listening to them can show them that you care as often they will not ask for help themselves.
  • Can I visit, call, email or text – having advanced breast cancer can be lonely and isolating. Staying in touch with them and calling or visiting can make them feel less lonely and show them that they are loved.
  • Here’s a funny story – laughing can make a person feel happy, so sharing a funny story with them or making them laugh can take their mind off what they are going through for a short time at least.
  • Let’s do something fun, that is within your limits – family time and sharing time with friends is essential for a person with advanced breast cancer. They may have their limitations, but there is always something fun that you can do together so that they can still participate and not feel left out.
What your friends with advanced breast cancer want you to know (but are afraid to say):
  • Don’t wait on me to call you if I need anything – please call me every once in a while and set up a date and time to come over. I know you told me to call if I ever needed anything, but it’s weird asking others to spend time with me or help me with stuff I used to be able to do on my own. It makes me feel weak and needy, and I’m also afraid you’ll say “no.”
  • Let me experience real emotions – even though cancer and its treatments can sometimes influence my outlook, I still have normal moods and feelings in response to life events. If I’m angry or upset, accept that something made me mad and don’t write it off as the disease. I need to experience and express real emotions and not have them minimized or brushed off.
  • Ask me “what’s up” rather than “how do you feel” – let’s talk about life and what’s been happening rather than focusing on my illness.
  • Forgive me – there will be times when the illness and its treatment make me “not myself.” I may be forgetful, abrupt or hurtful. None of this is deliberate. Please don’t take it personally, and please forgive me.
  • Just listen – I’m doing my very best to be brave and strong, but I have moments when I need to fall apart. Just listen and don’t offer solutions. A good cry releases a lot of stress and pressure for me.
  • Take pictures of us – I may fuss about a photo, but a snapshot of us can help get me through tough times. A photo is a reminder that someone thinks I’m important and worth remembering. Don’t let me say “I don’t want you to remember me like this” when treatment leaves me bald or scarred. This is me, who I am RIGHT NOW. Embrace the now with me.
  • I need a little time alone – a few points ago I was talking about how much I need to spend time with you, and now I’m telling you to go away. I love you, but sometimes I need a little solitude. It gives me the chance to take off the brave face I’ve been wearing too long, and the silence can be soothing.
  • My family needs friends – parenting is hard enough when your body is healthy; it becomes even more challenging when you’re managing a cancer diagnosis with the day-to-day needs of your family. My carer could also benefit from a little time with friends. Grab lunch or play a round of golf together. I take comfort in knowing you care about the people I love.
  • I want you to reduce your cancer risk – I don’t want you to go through this. While some cancers strike out of the blue, many can be prevented with just a few lifestyle changes – stop smoking, lose extra weight, protect your skin from sun damage, and watch what you eat. Please go see a doctor for regular check-ups and demand follow-up whenever pain, bleeding or unusual lumps show up. Many people can live long and fulfilling lives if this disease is discovered in its early stages. I want you to have a long and fulfilling life.
  • Take nothing for granted – enjoy the life you have right now. Take time to jump in puddles, hug the kids, and feel the wind on your face. Marvel at this amazing world God created, and thank Him for bringing us together. While we may not be thankful for my cancer, we need to be grateful for the doctors and treatments that give me the chance to fight this thing. And if there ever comes a time when the treatments no longer work, please know that I will always be grateful for having lived my life with you in it. I hope you feel the same about me.

The above were taken from

For more information on how you can support a loved one with advanced breast cancer please see the following websites:




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