When you have a loved one who has been diagnosed with breast cancer, it's shocking. And you want to help them. But how? We asked some breast cancer survivors to share what helped them most.
Support is key
"Having a friend take me to most of my chemo treatments was one of the best things that anybody did for me. It was wonderful having that support. She took time off work to accompany me to each treatment -- she was my advocate and emotional supporter," says Maimah Karmo, the founder of the Tigerlily Foundation, which provides full lifecycle, service-oriented financial and educational assistance to young women (ages 15-40) before, during, and after breast cancer. She's also a mom and breast cancer survivor.
Karmo says her friend became very in tune to her feelings and needs. "She could tell when I was getting nauseous. She could speak up to the nurse when she saw that my IV was dripping too quickly," says Karmo. "It's important to have a friend like that who is empathetic -- not sympathetic. One who really feels you and allows you to be yourself at that time."
When Karmo was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer, she was a single mother to a 3-year-old daughter. "If you're a single mother like I was, it's important to have someone help you with your child. You get so tired," says Karmo.
Saying the right thing
Is there a right thing to say to a mother diagnosed with breast cancer? The exact wording isn't so important, but being positive is.
"The best thing anyone said to me after my second diagnosis of stage IV breast cancer (almost 5 years ago) is a friend who said she had a deep feeling that I would be OK/beat this. We were talking about that the other day, and it still means so much to me," says Tami Boehmer, who blogs at tamiboehmer.com. Boehmer is a breast cancer survivor and author of From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds.
What not to say
When someone you know has breast cancer, try to avoid putting your foot in your mouth. How? Stay positive and don't do like someone did to Patti Villers, a breast cancer survivor and mother of two who blogs at Late Bloomer Boomer. "After my mastectomy, so many people I know through work or church or wherever who found out I had had the surgery asked me if 'they got all the cancer' or words to that effect," says Villers. "I learned to smile through it and just say jokingly, 'I hope so!'"
Really, what else could you say?
Boehmer also fielded some unpleasant comments. She had a coworker, who was a doctor, speak to her soon after her stage IV breast cancer diagnosis. "I told her I was going to take a leave of absence. She said, 'Well I guess you want to make the best of the time you have left.' I saw her a month ago, and she looked really surprised to see me, not just alive, but doing well. I secretly felt a little vindication, like 'I showed her,' says Boehmer. That was nearly 5 years ago.