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My Girlfriend Has Cancer—What Do I Do?

By Britta Aragon on August 17, 2010 | 3 Comments

She called you with the news. She may have been crying. Your girlfriend—that dear person you’ve shared so much with—has cancer. You desperately want to help, but what do you do?

Sometimes we can feel terribly helpless when it comes to friends with cancer. When I had cancer at 16 years old, most of my friends had no idea what to do or say. It’s almost easier when it’s a family member, as we feel we have “permission” to do anything we can think of to help. It’s different with a friend. How can we be sure what she will see as helpful, and what she will feel as intrusive?

Is there a guide to help your girlfriend through cancer? Now there is! Denise Hazen, cancer survivor, wrote a book called, Treat her like a Princess: How to Help Your Girlfriend with Breast Cancer, and in it, she shares many ways in which you, as a good friend, can help. Here are a few tips from the book—you can grab it from Amazon to read more!

Food: Regardless of your friend’s status (single, married, divorced, with kids, without kids), she will need to eat. Ask about any special dietary issues, and then consider setting up a grocery delivery service or dinner schedule. Get together with other girlfriends and choose days to take meals to her. You may want to ask your friend to write up a grocery list and go to the store for her. If she resists, remind her that grocery stores are full of germs, and if she’s going through chemo, she needs to protect herself as much as possible. Don’t forget things like popsicles and ice cream, as these are helpful for mouth sores and appetite problems.

Thank you notes: Your girlfriend is going to be overwhelmed with health-related tasks during her treatment. She’s likely to have little time to keep up with all the well wishes coming her way. Consider taking control of communication with friends and extended family. Send regular update e-mails for her. Write thank-you notes for gifts and services rendered.

Notes from doctor’s visits: If your friend doesn’t already have someone going with her to doctor’s visits to take notes, volunteer. Most likely she isn’t going to be in the best frame of mind to ask intelligent questions. Take a notebook, help her organize and list her medications (for the doctor’s reference), and talk to her beforehand to get down any questions she may have before going to the appointment.

Kids: If your friend has children, she’s probably going to be worried about them. How will they react to her illness? How will she keep up with their activities? Offer to help explain the situation, or to help drive the kids to dance class and football practice if needed. In some cases you may want to contribute to their lunches, or offer to help with homework. If your friend owns a pet, make sure its not neglected by offering to take the dog for a walk, to the groomer, or to the vet.

A listening ear: For many cancer patients, the one thing they really need—and rarely get—is someone willing to listen, really listen, with an empathetic ear. Too many people respond the wrong way, with false encouragements or admonishments to “be positive” or comparisons like, “my aunt had breast cancer and she made it through just fine.” Resist the urge to advise, and just listen and empathize with your friend. If she says, “I feel terrible today. I’m afraid I’m going to die,” refrain from saying something like, “Of course you won’t die.” Instead, empathize with how she feels. “That must be really scary. Do you think the doctor feels that way, too?” You can help her ease her fear with gentle inquiry, but be sure to always validate her feelings.

Have you helped a girlfriend through breast cancer? What did you find she needed most?

Photo courtesy wiryodisastro via Flickr.com.

Posted in: Breast Cancer, Caregiving


3 Comments to “My Girlfriend Has Cancer—What Do I Do?”

  1. Joe Tuller says:

    this website has answered some of my questions about this but i need more answeres about how i can be there to help my girlfriend with her cancer, she was born with brain cancer and it moved to her lungs while leaveinf toumers in her brain but the doctors took them out and now shes stuck with lung cancer and i just need a few ansewers about how i can be there for her when she needs me and how i can help her in general.

  2. Britta Aragon says:
  3. Britta Aragon says:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your girlfriend’s battle, Joe. How wonderful that she has you there to care about her and help her through. I would recommend a couple things. First, just the fact that you’re there and you care makes a HUGE difference, even on the days you may not think so. Trust me. I was a cancer patient and I know I wasn’t always perfect about showing my appreciation, but I greatly appreciated everyone who cared.

    Though every case of caregiving is different, here are some other things you may be able to do to help:
    -Help your girlfriend keep track of things like medications, doctor appointments, treatments, etc. It can be difficult to keep all that straight while fighting the disease. Check out my blogs on the subject under the “Caregiving” section. Also, check out this post in particular http://cincovidas.com/7-ways-to-be-an-advocate-for-your-loved-one-with-cancer/
    -Help her with things like taking care of the pets (if she has any), grocery shopping, and staying in touch with family. Regular emails and updates can keep family members aware of what’s going on.
    -Remember to spend some time together having fun. Rent some funny movies, play a board game, or do something to keep humor and joy in her life. (For more information on all this, check out my book, When Cancer Hits.)
    -Finally, make sure to keep taking care of yourself. If you burn out or get sick, you won’t be of any help to your girlfriend, so be sure to eat regular healthy meals, get your exercise, and get enough sleep. Good luck!


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