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In Egypt, we didn’t have access to enough information about breast cancer before the launch of Baheya Foundation in February 2015, along with intense media coverage. Yet, most people are still unaware of how to deal with a breast cancer patient, especially if the patient is a family member or a close friend.
We do and say things to a patients out of good intentions to support them, but these things don’t always help and are not always the right things to say. I’m not an expert, but I’m a human, who happened to have some thoughts on how to support a woman with breast cancer.
Understand what breast cancer is
Find more information about breast cancer in general, so you can understand more about their cases without asking too many questions that might pressure on the patient.
Don’t make them feel that your job is to fix them emotionally
It’s really not your job to fix them or help them be in peace with it. We always do that out of the best intensions, but it often results in putting more pressure on the person in front of us. You cannot force someone to feel good. Let them experience the process and every stage and always be there for them, without judgment.
You also can’t force hope
Everyone handles shocking news differently. However, there are certain stages every cancer patient goes through and feeling pessimistic and lonely are usually on top of them. Encourage hope, but don’t force it.
Practice good listening
Understand what they’re going through. Listen to them without interruption or judgment. Don’t let your curiosity lead the conversation.
Always put yourself in their shoes
It’ll help if you put yourself in their shoes and think of words that would hurt you. Yes, everybody is different, but we can all agree that certain words and questions hurt. So, be considerate.
It’s fine if they collapsed
Take a look around you, whoever is under severe stress usually lashes out for the smallest reasons. Imagine what it’s like for a cancer patient. It is okay if they poured their anger on you. They know it’s not your fault and that usually stresses them out more. If that happened, gently absorb their anger and be a shoulder they can cry on afterwards.
Be of physical help
A nice way to support a breast cancer patient is to actually help them with the house chores, babysitting, picking up the kids from school, rides to doctors’ appointments, etc.
Lead by example
Instead of pushing them to live a normal and healthy life, you can start by incorporating some healthy habits in your daily routine that might help them. Try to gently get them on board.
A success story is always a win
Show them positive shared experiences. And if possible, introduce them to women who went through the same ordeal and let them ask their questions. Support platforms such as CanSurvive and the Egyptian Society of Women’s Health (ESWH) can be of great help.
A hug might not fix everything, but it fixes a lot of things
Give them a warm squeeze every now and then.
The three keywords to supporting a breast cancer patient are: Be Understanding, Be Gentle, and Be Present.
Further reading: 3 Cairo Centers Offering Free Breast Cancer Screening.