A special message, for when you don’t know how to help

A special message, for when you dont know how to help

With over 90% of Breast Cancer Network Australias (BCNA) 28,000 members actually breast cancer survivors, they know how difficult it can be to support someone diagnosed with breast cancer, now there is a way to give a special message when you dont know how you can help.

Thousands of women have told BCNA that receiving messages of hope and inspiration lifted their spirits after diagnosis and when going through their treatment. These messages showed them they were not alone in their journey no matter how many obstacles they faced.

We lost contact with many friends after my diagnosis. I really believe this is because they didnt know what to do or say. Mary, Victoria

BCNA has now launched a world first for people to offer strength and support to a loved one with breast cancer. The Field of Women website, www.fieldofwomen.org.au is the first international website enabling loved ones to dedicate messages of hope and inspiration for those affected by breast cancer.

Lyn Swinburne, breast cancer survivor and founder of BCNA, says its hard to find anyone today who doesnt know someone touched by breast cancer. Lyn also knows from firsthand experience that receiving support from loved ones is a vital part of recovery. Loved ones can be a wonderful source of emotional support during a womans breast cancer journey but its often hard to know how to provide this in a practical way, Lyn said.

The Field of Women website allows people to post a tribute, by making a $20 donation to BCNA, where the message can then be viewed privately or shared by others anywhere in the world. By leaving a message on the Field of Women website, you know you are making a difference to a loved one and your donation is helping other women on similar journeys, Lyn said. All donations will enable BCNA to further support Australians affected by breast cancer.

Gerda Evans is a breast cancer survivor and BCNA member; she has answered the tough questions in regards to supporting a friend or family member who has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Other than leaving messages on The Field of Women website what other things can family members do to help when a woman is diagnosed with Breast Cancer?

Gerda Evans: Family members are often the major support for a woman diagnosed with breast cancer. It's important for family members to understand that nowadays, most women will survive breast cancer.
Let her know you are there for her, no matter how tough things get. Family often feel many of the same emotions the woman does so it might be worth getting some counselling to help you help her.

What can friends do to ensure they dont lose contact with a Breast Cancer sufferer?

Gerda Evans: Many women feel that their friends avoid them when they find out they have breast cancer so stay in touch throughout her journey with letters, cards and emails. Don't be afraid that you won't know what to say, just be yourself. Understand that she won't want to talk about her breast cancer all the time. Let her talk about anything. Just being good company is really helpful. Different people react in different ways so be sensitive and perceptive about what is appropriate for your friend. Hang in there during the rough times and dont be offended if your friend doesnt seem keen to join in usual activities or is a bit grumpy. Shell appreciate your understanding.

How could friends approach and talk to a friend, who has been diagnosed, especially if they are nervous about what to say?

Gerda Evans: First of all you should deal with your own feelings. The news your friend has breast cancer has probably come as a shock so before you start trying to help her you may want time to absorb this information and think about what it means for you. Be ready to listen; dont worry about saying the wrong thing or showing emotion, just be yourself. When my neighbour cried on hearing my diagnosis, I was really moved and her reaction resulted in a closer bond between us. If you are feeling too distressed yourself, talk to another friend or family member first so that you can sort out your own feelings.

Are family and friend support one of the most rewarding and helpful things during a diagnosis and treatment?

Gerda Evans: Support is vital! No-one should do breast cancer alone. Let her know you care by being practical as well as available. Just remember that when her treatment is finished, dont expect to feel everything is back to normal. A life threatening illness will have a lifelong affect on someone.

What else is rewarding and helpful during diagnosis and treatment?

Gerda Evans: Practical support is very helpful, for example helping her choose a wig or comfortable clothes. Help her find the information she may want. Take her shopping and carry the groceries. Hang out the washing or clean the bathroom. Prepare food for her family. Help her sort out her bills. Look after her children sometimes. Most importantly make sure you still have some fun together.

What are the perfect gifts to spoil a Breast Cancer sufferer with?

Gerda Evans: Hugs are definitely great. Pretty lingerie and comfortable clothing are special. Warm scarves and soft wraps are comforting. Drawings and art work from children are always appreciated. DVDs, music and going to a film are usually good gifts to consider. Sometimes frivolous nonsense is great and lightens the mood - for example trashy novels and magazines.

Is it true that the close family, parents, partner, children need be given support as well?

Gerda Evans: Absolutely. Breast cancer affects the whole family and everyone will have their own fears and concerns and may feel helpless and useless. Often people attempt to hide their worries so as not to burden other family members. Correct information is useful for the family and friends so that they can be realistic in their responses. Make sure you get information from trusted sources. This is where Breast Cancer Network Australias My Journey Kit is incredibly helpful. The kit includes a lot of information about her breast cancer but also handy phone numbers and websites for more information and support options. Some people still feel that there is a stigma associated with cancer; others feel or act as if the woman is dying. Most people survive breast cancer but the treatment is often lengthy and tiring and has side effects. But, remember, most do survive.

How can you support her family?

Gerda Evans:Remember they often need the same emotional support as your friend. Ask her partner and her children how they are feeling and listen to their responses. Partners and children need to be heard and supported as well. Offer to take the children for a day of fun activities. Give your friend and her partner some time alone. Maybe take over a home cooked meal if you know your friend is particularly tired or having treatment. Cards and messages will also help boost their spirits and know they have support outside the immediate family.

What are some helpful hints that you recommend, or have seen work in approaching the topic of Breast Cancer, so that both parties are comfortable?

Gerda Evans: Breast Cancer Network Australias My Journey Kit contains reliable and relevant information about breast cancer, treatment and support options.Also, look for reliable websites with information which is simply presented and explained in plain English. A better understanding of what breast cancer is will help you when talking to your friend. However, dont overdo it by showing off your knowledge or telling her about the latest cure or treatment you have heard about. Be there for her by listening and having an understanding of what she is talking about.

What wont help a woman with Breast Cancer, what shouldnt be asked?

Gerda Evans: Here are some points to consider:
  • Dont burden her with your fears and worries.
  • Definitely dont tell her any horror stories about other people with cancer!
  • Dont give up on her or stop visiting or visiting stick with her through her highs and lows
  • Dont tell her how she should be changing her lifestyle or diet. It may be hard enough for her to get out of bed in the morning!
  • Comments such as: There must be a reason for this; Everything will turn out well in the end or You look great may not help.
  • Dont tell her to Be positive. This may make it hard for her to talk to you about how she really feels.

    If you are worried or nervous about saying the wrong things what types of activities or subject should be approached?

    Gerda Evans: Just chat about the usual day to day topics such as current affairs, newspaper and magazine articles, childrens activities and interests or new recipes. Always remember to be yourself. If you act nervous or different this could make it difficult for her to talk to you.

    Is it okay to suggest you help her out, like driving her places or taking her family to their leisure activities?

    Gerda Evans: Yes this is very sensible. The trick is not to imply that she is useless, but that your help will allow her to keep her energy for other things that you cannot do for her

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