Friends & Family

The Best Ways to Support Someone Battling Breast Cancer, From Women Who’ve Been Through It

written by MELISSA GUIDA-RICHARDS
Source: Thirdman / Pexels
Source: Thirdman / Pexels

Imagine going to your second-ever mammogram, and finding out via your online health portal you have breast cancer. Now imagine you’re also the mom of twin toddlers. This was reality for Meg Wyman, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021. Katy Redlingshafer was also diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021, when her son was only 14- months-old.

Parenting is already tough, but add in a frightening medical diagnosis, and it becomes that much harder. Which is why the support of friends and family is invaluable for someone going through breast cancer treatments. But, it can also be difficult to know the best way to help. My own suegra (mother-in-law) was diagnosed with breast cancer many years ago and has since been in remission. My husband has shared many stories about what it was like watching his mom go through treatment, and he often wished he’d known better how to help. Here, with the help of Meg and Katy, we’re sharing some of the best ways to support someone battling breast cancer, from those who’ve been through it. 

What It’s Like Being a Mom With Breast Cancer

“The first few days after a cancer diagnosis are terrifying,” Meg shared. “The beginning is a fog and over time you learn a lot, but best to learn from your medical team, not the internet.” She added, “My twins were only 3-years-old during this time, so they did not understand the impact of my diagnosis. But they wondered about my port, why I was always tired, and why I could not play with them like I normally would.”

“Being a mom while having cancer helped me tap into that joy and wonder that is innately in your child. It was also so raw because your biggest fear is ‘what if?’ What if it comes back and I won’t see those milestones? Through support of family and therapy, I had to face those fears of recurrence—and while they still pop up, they more pass through now instead of grip me with fear,” said Katy. Additionally she shared, “Although [my son] was so young, and that made some things challenging, overall I felt very lucky he couldn’t understand what was happening to me, and just needed me to be his mom.”

How These Two Moms Coped With Their Diagnosis

Both women emphasized how valuable their husband and parents’ support were during that time. “The support that we received from family and friends helped us get through a very difficult year,” said Meg. “And getting outside as often as possible, walking my dog, podcasts (Smartless!) and streaming subscriptions, work and spending time with my family made the treatments tolerable.”

Meg Wyman
Meg Wyman with her twins, Betty and Charlie. (Source: Meg Wyman)

When I asked Katy about what advice she would give herself when she was diagnosed, she had a lot to say about self-care and emotional support. “I reconnected with my therapist immediately, and that was hugely helpful. Advice I would give other people: get a therapist. If you are married, make sure your spouse has someone to talk to, and that you have someone to talk with together as needed.”

“Between cancer, parenting, jobs, life and everything in between, you are often just in survival mode, but it will catch up with you. The emotional support is by far the most important in my opinion. I think I did a good job of processing what was happening in real time, so that I didn’t get hit with it later like a lot of people do when treatment ends. And I am still processing it! I think maybe people stop living and are waiting for ‘treatment to be over’ or when things go back to ‘normal.’ I have found it doesn’t really work like that, and you have to try and find the joy in each day,” said Katy.

Katy Redlingshafer breast cancer survivor
Katy Redlingshafer with her son, Ray. (Source: Katy Redlingshafer)

The Best Ways to Help a Mom With Breast Cancer

Being a parent can be difficult on good days, but when you receive a cancer diagnosis and are trying to make doctors appointment after doctors appointment, while attempting to rest, heal, and keep your home functioning, it can be a challenge of a lifetime. Here are some of the best ways to help:

Give Practical Gifts

“There will always be the people who send really special, thoughtful gifts and some of those I treasure,” said Katy. “[But] you have so many medical bills and just so many things can be overwhelming… I felt like the really practical gifts were most helpful.” 

“We had a meal train and were given many gift cards for food delivery—both were tremendously helpful. Not having to worry about groceries and meal planning during chemo was a true blessing. We were also gifted with a kid’s meal delivery service (Little Spoon) which was amazing! Toddler eating habits are worrying enough, so to have this stress off my plate was a relief,” said Meg. 

Both women suggested practical gifts, like:

What not to gift? Don’t go generic. Katy shared that she and fellow breast cancer patients joked over how many candles, ginger chews, and cozy socks they received. For those who want to help, avoid Googling and buying the first “breast cancer care package” that pops up. Some of those gifts just remind the person they have cancer. 

breast cancer
Source: Anna Tarazevich | Pexels

Make Self-Care Easier for Them

As parents, we can become so used to putting our needs on the back burner, but when you factor in a difficult medical diagnosis, it can make it even more difficult to find the energy and time to prioritize self-care and mental health. Katy shared the following recommendations:

  • Spa gift cards to use after treatment, for care they normally wouldn’t spend on themselves
  • Giving a gift around meditation, acupuncture, massage, or even therapy or a trainer would make an impact if you know they are open to it

Offer to Help With Their Children

While it can be hard for any parent to let go, Meg said that she was hesitant to accept offers for childcare because she didn’t want to miss a second with her children (and understandably so). “In retrospect, accepting more help with the kids would have been good for all of us—it would have helped to keep their life a bit more normal (and fun!) and would have allowed me more time to myself to focus on healing. If you are going through this—say YES to the help. We all have seasons in our life where we are helping others. Someday you might need help. Accept it with grace,” she added. 

For Meg’s daughter, seeing her mom lose her hair was an especially difficult part of treatment. Meg shared there are some fantastic books for kids about hair loss that her family received, including the picture book The Hare Who Lost Her Hair, which was a favorite.

Use These Four Powerful Words

The support of family and friends is invaluable, but feeling obligated to thank everyone who reached out can get overwhelming for the person in treatment.

“I felt very grateful to have so many family and friends text, call, write cards, etc. that it was almost overwhelming at times feeling like I needed to follow up with everyone and thank them,” said Katy.

Prefacing a “thinking of you” text or a card with “no need to respond” can be so appreciated by the person going through treatment. “‘No need to respond’ are some very powerful words!” said Katy.

When Possible, Ask the Person With Breast Cancer What They Need Most

It may seem obvious to some, but one of the best ways to help a person with breast cancer is to simply ask them what they need most. Katy shared, “I think it varies so much what people need depending on their particular situation. So just asking is important to make sure people don’t get a bunch of stuff they don’t need.” 

Meg shared that one of the most impactful gifts she received was a human hair wig. “That sounds strange, but I did not realize how important my hair was to me until I lost it. It is a human hair wig, and it was an investment, but knowing what I know now, it was worth every penny. It is one of the only things that makes me feel like myself,” she said.

Katy also wanted to add, “There are so many women who are diagnosed that are single moms, and many communities that don’t have resources… as well as younger women that are being diagnosed that have their fertility compromised or taken away. More attention needs to be given to women who don’t have the built-in support systems and resources.”

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