Girlfriendology, the online community for women based on female friendship, is observing Breast Cancer Awareness Month by sharing 10 ways to be a better friend to a girlfriend going through cancer, chemotherapy and the incredible stress, worry, fear and emotion it involves.
The lessons come from women who have undergone treatment for breast cancer. They are friends of Girlfriendology.com founder Debba Haupert who shared their honest opinions and insights. Haupert points out that this can be a difficult topic for many, and that every woman faces cancer differently, so one woman’s needs can differ from another’s.
With more than 2 million breast cancer survivors in the U.S., chances are you know someone dealing with the disease. Here’s how to be a good friend during a difficult time:
1. Provide encouragement – Sometimes a woman is looking for a friend simply to affirm that she is doing all the right things and that she’s going to be okay. Remind her of her strengths and victories, uphold her decisions and encourage her to keep going.
2. Listen – Listen without judgment, whenever it’s needed. Avoid easy answers or telling her to buck up and be strong. There are times when cancer can be overwhelming and they need to talk about it. Be the person they need – and simply listen. Let them process their thoughts aloud, listen and care.
3. Offer help – Instead of saying open-endedly, “Let me know if you need anything,” ask precisely what you can do. Ask your friend if she’d like you to bring dinner, do laundry, babysit or go grocery shopping for her. Offer to help by doing Internet research on treatments and remedies. Identify what needs to be done and ask if you can help her by doing it.
4. Cheer her up – Do things that really help and buoy spirits. Knit or buy her a pair of fuzzy pink socks. Give her an inspiring book or pink gifts. Celebrate the end of each treatment with champagne. Give her a gift certificate for a massage or a manicure. Help her deal with the hair loss – take her wig shopping, buy a hat or buff for her or, like some girlfriends do, shave your head in solidarity.
5. Be understanding – Plato said “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Your girlfriend is going to have good and bad days, so be patient on those days when she may say something she might not mean, or not mean it the way it sounded. She is fighting a life-changing battle and deserves your patience, grace and understanding. Don’t take things personally… cut your girlfriend some slack.
6. Help her communicate – She may not want to talk about cancer all the time. While she’ll appreciate your interest in how she’s doing, it can be wearing to go through all the details again and again. Help her set up a blog or start a chain phone list for updates.
7. Laughter is the best medicine – Give or lend her your romantic comedy movies or books, or take her to a chick flick – just make sure there are no cancer storylines. Send her funny cards or wrap up silly presents so she has fun gifts to open. Be flexible with your time – and jump at the chance to be with her when she’s feeling good. Back off when she asks because she’s feeling not so good. Take off time from work if you need to be with her.
8. Offer inspiration – Share stories of people who have gone through the same thing and are doing well years later. We all need inspiration, reassurance and optimism. It’s even better if you can connect your friend with those people so they can talk to them. Never talk about people who have died of cancer or are not doing well.
9. Friendship endurance – Be in this friendship for the long haul. There are going to be good and bad days, weeks, and months. Be her friend no matter what, and even when the treatments seem to go on forever – that simply means that she’s still your girlfriend. Continue to be there for her.
10. Celebrate life together! Look for opportunities to be together, to share memories and moments to remember, go on an adventure or explore together, laugh together and cry together when needed. See the beauty in each day as her friend and let her know that. Celebrate each day of friendship.
Remember friendship is like marriage – in sickness and in health. Be there for her and enjoy every day of your friendship. And, in observation of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, early detection is the best protection so practice self-exams and mammograms for your own health. Girlfriends need to remind each other that as well.