Whether you’re newly diagnosed, in treatment, or a breast cancer survivor, support from family and friends is not a “nice to have.” It’s a necessity. Breast cancer can be a long and life-altering journey that takes an emotional toll. The good news is, you don’t have to face it alone.
Numerous studies have shown that women who receive emotional support from family, friends, or support groups (on- or offline) during breast cancer fare better physically, mentally, and emotionally than those who don’t. “I was very grateful for my family and support network, and needed their love to help me through the journey,” said one member of MyBCTeam. “I thought I loved my husband a lot before my breast cancer diagnosis, but I fell in love with him in a deeper and more meaningful way during the past eight months!” shared another member.
Getting the breast cancer support you need, however, can be challenging. “Some family members get overwhelmed with how the diagnosis impacts THEM and forget that YOU are the person dealing with breast cancer,” shared one member. “Most people were supportive initially, but post-treatment they went on to live their lives,” shared another member. “Many people don’t deal well with illness, especially long diagnoses like cancer.”
Because women with breast cancer are at a high risk for developing depression and fatigue, emotional support throughout the journey is critical, according to a 2017 literature review. The study concluded that social support starting at the time of diagnosis — when many women feel their worlds crashing down — could improve quality of life and long-term survivorship.
Members of MyBCTeam agree that support is needed the moment you hear the words, “You have cancer.” “My husband was told by the doctors that I would go through stages of anger and denial. I remember lying in bed repeating over and over that I have breast cancer just so I can face reality. It’s an emotional roller coaster,” said one member.
Breaking the news of a breast cancer diagnosis to loved ones is something many women resist for fear of being a burden. “I tried keeping feelings to myself, but ended up with a level of anxiety that rendered me useless,” admitted one member. BreastCancer.org offers some tips about asking family and friends for support.
Spouses or partners — the people women rely on most for emotional support — are often hardest hit by a breast cancer diagnosis. “My husband is having a hard time and doesn’t know how to help. He’s so worried that I'm not going to be OK,” said one newly diagnosed member. “Most men are used to ‘fixing’ things for us — this is one thing they can't fix,” shared another. “It’s more important for them to just be there. That alone is worth everything.” “Our husbands need support networks, too, because they go through this with us,” suggested another.
During treatment for breast cancer, there’s typically an outpouring of support from friends and family, reported members of MyBCTeam. “My husband came to all my appointments. My son took care of home stuff and kept me laughing. My sister stayed two weeks after my mastectomy to help with household chores and taking care of me when my husband went back to work,” shared one grateful member. “My husband even shaved his head for me! I don't know where I'd be without him,” said another.
Friends send thoughtful gifts, run errands, and offer prayers. “My girlfriend put together a chemo bag for me. It was an awesome gift because things were happening so fast and I didn't know what to expect,” shared one member. “My sister-in-law sent a card every week. That put a smile on my face,” another said. “I really appreciated people who helped without asking … bringing over a meal, shaving my head, buying a pretty scarf, going grocery shopping,” wrote one member.
Many members also experience acts of kindness and generosity from supervisors and co-workers. “My boss continued to pay me even though I took a leave of absence. It helped me pay my mortgage,” noted one grateful member. Others receive unconditional support from their pets. “They were my best friends!” said one member. Another added, “My dogs never left my side for the last seven months. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
When treatment ends, supporters often return to their own lives, leaving breast cancer survivors to fend for themselves. “My sister was only interested in being a part of the ‘crisis.’ Once my surgeries and appointments were over, she was done,” one MyBCTeam member lamented, adding, “It seems to be a very common experience, unfortunately. It changed our relationship. I no longer discuss my worries or fears with her.”
One breast cancer survivor shared her post-treatment coping mechanism: “Now’s the time to do a little spring cleaning. You need people around who will lift you up. The rest just have to get out of the way. That’s part of the healing.”
Forgiving errant family and friends, however, has helped many members during the healing process. “My BFF distanced herself from me during my year of treatment. I was shocked, but later realized she wasn’t able to cope with the thought of me dying. So, I accepted those who helped and forgave those who ran,” posted one member.
Finding a trusted confidant with whom you can discuss your most intense fears, concerns, and hopes may involve going outside the usual circle of loved ones. Some outsiders who can help include:
To manage the psychological impact of breast cancer, many doctors recommend professional help. This may include getting screened for depression and other mental health issues. Oncology social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists can help you sort through many complex emotions. CancerCare provides free professional support services in-person and by phone.
“I set myself up with a therapist — just in case,” shared one member. “I see her once a month for 45 minutes to unload WHATEVER I want. It's another parachute I put in place that has been helpful over the past eight months.”
“Breast cancer buddies,” a popular form of support offered at many hospitals and health care practices, matches two women in treatment together or a survivor with someone newly diagnosed. “My chemo buddy said to me recently, ‘No one else understands it like you do,’” shared one member. Another still meets her “breast cancer sisters” for breakfast. “It’s such a lift to my week,” she said. “When you become friends with a fellow BC lady, you’re friends for life. There’s a bond that never leaves,” explained another.
Breast cancer support groups provide safe places to share experiences with women going through similar challenges. In addition to lessening the sense of isolation, support groups can be a source of valuable breast cancer resources, coping skills, and lifelong friendships. They generally meet in person, by phone, or online. “I go once a month to a group that meets at our hospital. I find it helps to talk about issues with others,” said one member.
Online groups such as MyBCTeam provide a 24/7 community for women struggling with breast cancer issues. “I stumbled upon MyBCTeam one day and it has been the biggest blessing ever since. It has helped me more than anything,” said one member. “I care so much about all the ladies on this site. It’s therapy like none other,” said another. “I consider each one of YOU, my sisters, friends for life! LOVE you all,” said another member.
By joining MyBCTeam, the social network and online support group for those living with breast cancer, you gain a support group more than 50,000 members strong. Needing support from family and friends is a frequently discussed topic.
Here are some recent conversations on MyBCTeam about needing — and finding — support:
Do you struggle with getting support during or after breast cancer treatment? How do you take care of yourself when you don’t have a strong support network? Go to MyBCTeam today and start the conversation. You'll be surprised to find other members with similar stories.