Breast Friends: Friends with Breast Cancer, how to help?

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Angelica discusses integrity on the "Super Friend Groups Talk Radio" show

Angelica Holiday, this week’s guest blogger, writes about friends with breast cancer from her own experience with cancer and the powerful impact her friends had on her life during this period. She shares 15 tips and insights on how you can be a great friend to your friend during this time.

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In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness month, I want to share my friend experiences for both my recovery and my friends. When I found out my closest friend had breast cancer I was devastated. In a strange twist of fate, a month after her last chemo, I couldn’t get off my bathroom floor but I was so sick I had to get to my doctor. I lay on those cold tiles slowly brushing my hair knowing something was wrong, terribly wrong. I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. My close friend and many other friends stepped beyond the call of duty for me. I wouldn’t have got through this experience without them with such grace.

Super Friend Groups_Breast Friends_ Image by Official Navy Page from United States of America MC2 Adam M. Bennett/U.S. Navy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Official Navy Page from United States of America MC2 Adam M. Bennett/U.S. Navy, via Wikimedia Commons
Friends are a vital part toward recovery and these are how you, as a friend can be there for another in need. During that time, even my big burly, weight lifter, health fanatic guy friend was diagnosed with breast cancer – so all these ideas may be amended for men.

Here are my top 15 Tips for friends with breast cancer – from understanding “Chemo Brain” to buying a crazy wig – on how to help your friend with love and action:

  1. Drive them to all their appointments. Attend the appointment because the info will be overwhelming and you can help to remind as things go. My friends traded off for each other for me. Oh, and they many need help to sort of their pills – drug cocktails – which may be many and difficult to sort out.
  2. Relieve the caregiver. Friends are the angels that not only help the patient, but relieves spouses, children and extended family. Devise a rotor that keeps time and attention on track and refreshed.
  3. Help them pay their bills. Money is tight for everyone, so have friends each choose a bill, like the cable bills and take it off their hands. True story, my laptop and my mobile phone, both, at the same time, died. Since my birthday was during my treatment, all my friends pooled together and replaced them. Yes, a miracle of friendship.
  4. Do household activities like their laundry, cleaning, change their linens, walk their dog; take the children so she and their spouse/partner can have a date night in, buy new linens and extra pillows as they will be in bed a lot.
  5. “Chemo Brain,” an inside joke my best friend and I said to each other…when one is having treatment, you forget everything. Help the friend to write down all their user names and passwords, computer, ATM, home security alarm, teachers’ names for their children and school phone numbers. Emergency, even 911, next door neighbor, their own phone numbers….It is absolutely crazy making of the highest order and when they wear themselves out trying to remember it is devastating.
  6. Here is a big downer… in the early stages no flowers or plants. During my recovery they took these beautiful gifts away from me as there’s bacteria in the soil and pollens that can be harmful. Help them write thank you notes for all the gifts.
  7. The loss of hair may be the most troubling for your friend. My friend and stylist, Derek Smart of the Jonathan & George Salon in Beverly Hills, took me in hand. I consider the care that Derek paid me was one of the most caring and intimate in all my life. He marched me into his private room in the salon and shaved my head. He then took me wig shopping and to try on wigs. Purple, zebra wigs, he tried them too and we both laughed together. In the end we chose a blonde, super straight rock star wig, the exact opposite of my natural kinky hair. He told me how to wash the wigs. That’s when my friends stepped in, because washing my own wigs reminded me of being bald.
  8. Your friend will be cold, from losing her hair. My mum always said cover your head and hands to keep the body heat in. They will wear the caps to bed. Find fun knit caps, maybe even silly ones. Buy one for yourself too!
  9. Buy your friend fun wicking (dry fabric) pajamas, lounge wear, as they’ll sweat a lot. They all have to open in the front as they can’t pull anything over their heads.
  10. You may have to help them change their medical drains – this is not a pleasant task for anyone, but necessary. They can’t take showers or baths, so a sponge bath will be a gift in itself. Talk about friends being close and personal. Assure your friend as they may be overwhelmed and sometimes embarrassed.
  11. Your friend will often feel helpless, and not be able to fall asleep. So read them a fun bedtime story, their favorite poems or the news.
  12. During cancer treatment there’s a limited diet, so explore those foods your friend can eat and cook together – focusing on the foods she likes best. They can stir, but not cut. They may only be able watch. While cooking together, make extra to freeze for later dinners. As treatments are notorious for creating nasty mouth sores. Stay away from spicy, acidic food (citrus) and caffeine. Banning chocolate and coffee was a huge challenge. Smells, orders, tastes are all whacked. I couldn’t handle the smell of any foods, and had the maintenance in my building block the kitchen flue so I couldn’t smell food floating in from other apartments. Help navigate these details with your friend.
  13. Encourage them to Skype with every one instead of inviting them over. Your friend’s immune system is shot and germs are the enemy. Please ask other friends to call ahead, so your friend can primp to look their best. Keep the number of visitors to a minimum.
  14. Find your friend special make-up from The American Cancer Society which has an amazing complimentary make-up and hair program called Look Good, Feel Better.You are provided with generous designer samples and instruction to your needs. Have a make-up night with this make-up. Other manicures, facial, the dentist and pap smears are put on hold. The smallest nick of your skin invites raging infection. My skin was ravaged. I begged my dermatologist for relief from what looked like adult acne and she said I had to wait until the toxins had left my body. Chemo has to come out and it takes as long as it wants, even years after. It’s best to get them to discard all their used make-up.
  15. Keep active with your friend even if they can do their regular exercise or sports activities. Treatments and surgery will upset this routine. Participate in your friends prescribed exercises, arm lifts, arm swings and wall climbing per their doctor’s recommendation. Find substitutions, like partner/friend meditation.

These are the times when you can discover real friendship. This journey was one of the most challenging and beautiful experiences I’ve ever had. And I truly thank my friends who got me through, my appreciation for them will never be forgotten.

Remember…. A great friend starts with you!

Image courtesy: By Official Navy Page from United States of America MC2 Adam M. Bennett/U.S. Navy (Sailors stand in a pink ribbon formation at sea.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

© Angelica 2013

Please note: I hide specific and identifiable details in my friend stories as these stories are examples of behavior and not meant to hurt anyone. These stories are based on the writer’s opinion and perspective (except when the people written about are in the public domain) and should not be construed as medical or legal advice.


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