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What to say to a friend with breast cancer

When a friend is diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s not easy to find the right words. Don’t retreat from her because you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. She needs you now more than ever, so go out of your way to be there and stay in touch.

Consoling a friend with cancer
Woman consoling a friend

“I’m sorry”

Don’t tell her you know how she feels (unless you’ve had breast cancer). Don’t tell her not to be scared. Those words won’t be of any comfort, and they may even rub her the wrong way. Just tell her that you’re sorry, because you are. Those simple words can convey a lot.

“That is so unfair”

She may not express it, but she’s probably blaming herself on some level, trying to figure out what she did to cause this to happen or to be deserving of the disease. Telling your friend that her diagnosis is unfair lets her know that you don’t hold her accountable and she shouldn’t either, because cancer can happen to anyone.

“Do you want some company?”

Your first instinct might be to run to her side, but she may not feel like having people around. Ask before you show up. She’ll probably be glad to have the company, but if not, she’ll be grateful for your instinct and glad you thought to ask.

“I’m a great listener”

Sometimes the best thing you can say is nothing at all. Just let her know you’re here to listen, then sit back and let her get some things off her chest. She might be scared, angry, frustrated, nervous or all of those. Let her be the one to decide how much she wants to say and when, instead of hitting her with a barrage of questions.

“Can I take you to a doctor’s appointment?”

She’s going to spend a lot of time going back and forth to different appointments, and she may not want or be able to drive to all of them. Ask if you can take her to some of her appointments. She’ll also enjoy the company while she waits and may even want a second pair of ears there to hear what the doctors have to say or to take notes.

“How about dinner and a movie?”

She probably wants nothing more than for her life to return to normal, so offer that up, even if it’s just for one night. Take her out on the town, have a good time, and pretend like her cancer never happened.

Make an offer

Don’t ask your friend what you can do for her. She may be unwilling to ask, and she probably doesn’t know how much you’re willing to do. Think about what she might need, then ask her if you can do that specific thing. Ask her if you can bring over dinner, pick up the kids from school, throw in a load of laundry, run the vacuum or scrub her tub. She’ll probably say yes, and even if she doesn’t, she won’t forget that you asked.

Quick tip

Not every cancer patient wants to talk about her diagnosis. Take a cue from her regarding how much she wants to discuss.

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