How to support breast cancer survivors

Brehm family L to R: Jonah (8), Adam (husband), Harrison (6), Barrett (11) and Ashli" data-caption="Brehm family L to R: Jonah (8), Adam (husband), Harrison (6), Barrett (11) and Ashli


Whether recently diagnosed or long-term fighters, breast cancer survivors are a powerful bunch. If you have a survivor in your life, you may want to help but don’t know how. These thoughtful ideas are perfect to show your loved one support during a difficult time.

Think practical

Cancer patients always need masks, Lysol spray and Clorox wipes – especially now when these supplies are scarce. During treatment, cancer patients have weaker immune systems and are more susceptible to all illnesses. You can simply drop these germ-killing supplies off on their porch or by the front door to avoid physical contact.

For someone who likes to write, give them stationary or a journal. You can also offer to take their letters or cards to the post office and pay for stamps to mail them to the intended recipients. Cancer treatments are so draining that patients rarely have the energy to write. You might offer to sit with your friend during treatment and write thank you notes that they dictate.

In non-social distancing times, some patients need assistance getting to and from appointments. So gift cards to ride sharing services like Uber or Lyft can be extremely helpful. 
Practical gifts for a patient’s chemo bag include:

  • An extra phone charger or two
  • Cozy things like pajamas that aren’t restrictive
  • A warm hat (avoid itchy materials)
  • Mild, unscented products for protecting and rehydrating skin, like Aquaphor or Aveeno moisturizers

Include the whole family

Don’t shy away from taking care of the entire family and not just the patient, because it is hugely beneficial to the person receiving care. Remember everyone in the family.

One of my favorite gifts was a “box of sunshine” that contained many different yellow gifts: paper plates, balloons, a t-shirt with puff paints that my kids could decorate and other things. This is a good time to say that not every gift needs to be pink to show support – sometimes I felt like everything I owned was pink!

Another friend gave me personalized bags for each of my three boys that contained activities they could do each month when I was at my appointments. If someone has children and is going through treatment, offering them help with their children is huge. 

Deliver meals or groceries

A hot meal delivered to your door is a wonderful thing. Offer to send the patient and their family a meal. Ask what kind of dishes they enjoy as well as what should be avoided. Knowing taste buds and treatments can make some food taste better than others; also some foods can’t be kept down.

You can also deliver groceries. In non-pandemic times, grocery shopping can feel like another burden after managing appointments, caring for children, getting work done and fighting cancer. While the pandemic is such a high risk to cancer patients, delivering groceries is huge.

Giving fresh foods is especially helpful. Everybody can use pantry staples in the cupboard, but it’s hard to keep fruits and veggies on hand. Ask your friend, “Are there things that taste good right now?” and drop those off on their porch or by the front door.

Share something sweet

Memories are a great way to bring comfort to a patient receiving care. Send a card in the mail with a picture of a fun time that you shared with your loved one.

Treatment can take hours to sit through. If the patient can watch shows they like, it may pass the time in a more pleasant way. Offering to pay for Netflix or another streaming service is a kind gesture.

For people who love to read, The Silver Lining is a popular pick for breast cancer survivors. You can also get your loved one a gift card to a local bookstore. Be sure to choose a bookstore with delivery options so they don’t have to leave the house.

Outside of coronavirus season, you can reach out to other friends and family to develop a book together. Include special letters, notes, pictures, quotes and kind sayings that the patient can read during treatment or while recovering. 

For others trying to support breast cancer survivors, thank you for reaching out and showing that you care. Going through treatment was exhausting, so I appreciated any kind gesture. Even if I couldn’t use a gift for some reason, I still felt cared for and loved.