How to help someone going through breast cancer treatment

How to help someone going through breast cancer treatment

Everyone needs to know that they are cared about. It is one of the basic human needs. We need food, water and to be cared about. And at no other time is it as important to know this, than when diagnosed with cancer and making your way through gruelling treatment. This is a time for friends and family to step up, help out and be there for their friend or loved one.

So here is a simple list. Just suggestions of ways in which to help your loved one or friend who is going through breast cancer treatment. Everyone who goes through breast cancer deals with it in a different way so whilst these suggestions are inspired by some of the wonderful things that my amazing friends and family did for me, some of these suggestions may not work for your friend. Follow her cues to see what she needs from you.


1.  Practical help is the biggest gift you can give your friend or family member while they go through surgery, chemo or radiotherapy. It is priceless and I could not have got through the past year without all the practical help from my friends and family.

2.   Offer practical help:
–  Deliver meals she can freeze and reheat at a later date (but check if any food allergies, taste issues arising out of treatment etc.).
–   Help with childcare after school, at weekends and during school holidays.
–   Offer to organise a rota with other friends to help out with childcare, school runs, children’s club runs, chemo trips, radiotherapy trips, medical appointments.
–   Take her ironing to do for her.
–   When she is suffering from the chemo side effects, offer help in the home such as putting on the washing, emptying the dishwasher and hoovering.
–   Offer to pick up groceries, toiletries, prescriptions and anything else which saves her from making a trip to the shops.
–   Offer to take her to any medical appointments and take notes.

3.  If you live close by then you could offer to be a night-time emergency contact so that if she needs to go to hospital you can either be the person she contacts to take her, or you can babysit her children in the middle of the night.

4.  Offer help and make it clear that you genuinely mean it (even after the tenth time that she declines it; she might accept it on your 11th offer).


1.   Try to be there for her every step of the way. It is a long old slog getting through the treatment so don’t let your support subside – keep it up for the entire journey (including after all the treatment has ended which is an emotionally tough time).

2.   Be thoughtful throughout all her treatment. Remember that what she is going through is huge. It is a big deal. It is the biggest deal.

3.  Visit her. Not just when she is diagnosed or has had surgery, but regularly throughout her treatment. She will appreciate the company and the distraction.

4.   Take your cues from her as to how much she wants to see people and talk to people. Don’t assume she wants to be left alone.  But don’t assume she needs company. She will need both at different times.

5.   Keep in touch – send cards, notes, letters, emails or texts without expecting a reply. If you don’t know what to say then take a look at this website (frommetoyou). And if you write “no need to respond” she knows that she doesn’t have to reply.

6.   Be flexible and understand if she cancels a visit last minute. This will probably happen at some point.

7.   Respect her privacy.

8.  Don’t write her off. Treat her much the same as before she got cancer so if you are arranging a social event then include her in the invitation. She needs to know that she hasn’t been forgotten.

9.  If she is up to seeing a few friends then take lunch to her house with a couple of friends (without being overwhelming).

10.  Take afternoon tea (and friends) to her. One of the nicest things that one of my friends did for me was to bring homemade scones, clotted cream and jam over for us to eat together.

11.  Offer to go for walks with her. Pick her up and drive her to a nice place for walking.

12.  Offer to take her out for lunch or a coffee.

13.  Remember her: send a quick hello text. Perhaps set a calendar alert on your phone to remember to text every few days or so. Getting through tough treatment can be very lonely knowing that everyone else is just carrying on with their normal lives.

14.  Listen to her when she needs to talk.

15.  Be a shoulder for her to cry on if she needs it.

16.  Celebrate the milestones with her – if she is up to it then organise something special when she finishes chemo, has had her surgery or finishes radiotherapy. (But be prepared for her to cancel at the last minute if she isn’t feeling well enough).

17.  Give gifts to her children and husband. They need support too.

18.  If you arrange to visit her, then do. Try not to cancel (unless of course it is impossible). Visits from friends and family are so important and mean so much.

19.  Going through chemo is totally demoralising when it comes to our looks so if you are any good with make up you could offer to come over and give her a makeover, do her nails, help with scarf tying and generally help her to feel good about her looks (look at the section on make up on the website – because there are some precautions she needs to take with nail care and makeup).

20.  Understand that throughout chemo and beyond, she will have very low immunity and won’t be able to come into contact with people who are poorly: don’t visit if you or your children/husband is ill so you don’t risk passing on bugs.

21.  And remember that although you won’t know what she is going through unless you have been through it, open your mind and try to understand it. She has a life threatening disease and she is going through harsh treatment which will make her feel physically awful and an emotional wreak. She isn’t just lounging around on the sofa and having a bit of a rest.


Gifts are in no way expected – she will probably appreciate your time and help more than a gift, but there is no doubt about it: a gift is a lovely way of showing that you care and would most definitely be gratefully received.  If you are considering buying a gift maybe you could think about sending a gift at various points throughout her treatment when she could do with something to lift her spirits (and not just after diagnosis).  Don’t always expect a thank you note or message.

Gift ideas:

1.  Fluffy (or even cashmere) socks or slippers
2.  Soft shawls or scarves
3.  A hot water bottle and soft cover
4.  Bamboo clothing or pyjamas
5.  Soft hats
6.  Nice hand cream, lipbalm, toiletries, bubble bath (you may wish to consider paraben free/organic/sensitive skin ranges because chemo can make the skin more sensitive than usual – there are companies which sell products specifically suitable for chemo patients such as Jennifer Young: Beauty Despite Cancer)
7.  Puzzle books, colouring books (the mindfulness ones are great)
8.  Reading books (not sad ones or cancer stories!)
9.  Magazines or a magazine subscription
10.  A nice journal or notebook for her to write in or take to appointments
11.  Soft pillow cases
12.  Soft blanket
13.  Luxurious slippers  (I was given some that you can heat in the microwave)
14.  A soft jumper
15.  A microwaveable wheaty bag
16.  Luxury food items like chocolates, biscuits , cakes (I had a few deliveries from Betty’s and Biscuiteers which were gorgeous).
17.  Nice hot chocolate
18.  Nice herbal teas (possibly organic brands like Pukka and Tea Pigs which do loads of flavours)
19.  Nice candle (organic candles with a very subtle gentle scent are ideal for someone going through treatment Neom are gorgeous although a little bit pricey so it is worth doing a bit of a shop around online.)
20.  A tree to plant in the garden
21.   Flowers are such a lovely thought but check with her husband or carer first because sometimes patients with low immunity shouldn’t be in contact with flowers
22.  An ipad cushion
23.  A care package from one of the companies that specialise in care packages for cancer patients. Try:

Live Better With 
Jennifer Young: Beauty Despite Cancer 
Not Another Bunch of Flowers 
Don’t Buy Her Flowers

Or better still, put your own care package together for her using the items listed above. Here are some more ideas, but have a look on Pinterest – it is FULL of ideas for putting together a personal care package for your friend.

A chemo care package:

–   Tissues
–   Handcream
–   Lipbalm
–   Boiled sweets/mints
–   Magazine/puzzle/book
–   Notepad and pen
–   Antibacterial handwash – one of the nice ones

A home care package:

–   Tissues
–   Handcream
–   Lipbalm
–   A bell (so she can ring for a cup of tea!)
–   A nice shawl, scarf or blanket
–   Puzzle book/magazine/book to read
–   Something nice to eat, like biscuits or cakes

A pamper care package:

–    Luxury brand handcream, shower gel, body lotion
–    A nice shawl, scarf or slippers
–    A candle
–    And treatment affects everyone in different ways – but maybe a bottle of her favourite drink? Prosecco? Gin?

If you are delivering something (whether food, gifts, flowers) you could text beforehand and say you are going to deliver something and you will leave it on the door step at a certain time. This means that she has the option of opening the door to you if she feels up to seeing you, but if not then she doesn’t have to be disturbed.


What NOT to say. You feel uncomfortable with someone you know having cancer and you don’t know what to do or say to them, just say that.  But don’t put the onus on the cancer patient to tell you what to do or say. Here are some links to advice of what not to say to someone with cancer:

10 things not to say to someone with cancer

12 things never to say to someone who has cancer

What to and what not to say to a cancer patient


How to help and talk to someone with breast cancer 


Macmillan: Advice on talking to, listening to, and understanding someone who has cancer.

Breast Cancer Care have a booklet for partners of someone diagnosed with breast cancer which you can download or order here.

Gift ideas

Live Better With 
Jennifer Young: Beauty Despite Cancer 
Not Another Bunch of Flowers 
Don’t Buy Her Flowers

Practical advice if you are caring for someone with breast cancer 

Macmillan financial advice for carers “working while caring for someone with cancer” 

Macmillan tool kit for questions carers should ask at work


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