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For Everyone Touched By Cancer

How to Respond To a Friend With Breast Cancer

Written by Oluwatoyin Joy Oke on 
27th September, 2021
Updated: 3rd March, 2024
Estimated Reading Time: 8 minutes

Breast cancer, like many other cancer diseases, can result in a serious life-changing experience not only to the patient but also to the family, caregiver and friends. Which is why it is totally understandable for someone who is diagnosed with breast cancer to feel shocked, confused, isolated, defeated, and sad.

If you’re a friend to someone diagnosed with breast cancer, you really need to show up for them and make them feel important. So, as a concerned friend, how can you be a positive influence?

Let’s start with what you can say and do, as well as things you should be careful not to say or do when visiting a person with cancer.

How should you respond to a friend diagnosed with breast cancer?

Responding to a friend’s diagnosis differs depending on individuals. You can show up at their home or hospital, hug them and allow them to tell you what they want to share with you, if its appropriate.

But before visiting, it would be helpful if you take some time to research about your friend’s type of breast cancer and ways you can be of help.

It is also prerequisite for you to remain composed and always be sensitive to your friend’s feelings at the time of visiting.

It should be noted that being available at all times for them is a positive way of responding and showing your support. Remember, too, that it is okay to express moderate level of emotional feelings; you can cry and laugh with them. But please be ready to hear their fears and concerns.

You need to be careful not to create fear in your friend by what you say and how you say it. Don’t ever mention negative experiences of cancer to them, whether it's an anecdote about another patient, something you have read, or a personal experience, this is never ok. Never discourage them on any type of treatment they decide to choose, instead, they may need your support in their choices. Remember too that there is no need to offer advice or opinions no matter how well-intentioned it is, especially if it’s not demanded.

Another tip is to ask your friend’s caregiver some important facts about your friend’s breast cancer. So, no matter how knowledgeable you are, never assume you know it all, and do not try to get more information from them than they are willing to share. You may need to wait until the feel like disclosing more or this may never happen.

Many people, friends and family may be avoiding them simply because they don't know how to act and they might feel like they have been abandoned. So above and beyond, just be there for your friend to show support, at all times. Available at the end of the phone perhaps?. If they tell you they don't need help, knowing you are available for them can be enough support.. Don’t fear. Just be yourself.

Next, let’s discuss some specific words you can say to upbuild your friend.

When a friend is diagnosed with breast cancer knowing what to say and when to say it can help a great deal.

What can you say to a friend with breast cancer?

When a loved one, friend or family member is diagnosed with breast cancer, knowing what to say and when to say it can help a great deal.

Here are some soothing words you can say to be helpful, show support and leave a smile on your friends face:

  • “You’re never alone, we are in this together.”
  • “You are an amazing person to have the will to fight against breast cancer. I appreciate your courage”
  • “I always remember you in my prayers and my thoughts.
  • “ Let's get  through this ordeal together.”
  • 'Tell me what you want right now”
  • “I love these things about you.” Then plow ahead to say what specific thing you keen on about your friend.
  • "I will listen when you need someone to talk to.
  • “I really love you.”

While these expressions may sound too common, remember that what makes the real difference to cancer patients is how you say it. So, in essence, your words should portray genuine feelings of compassion and willingness to help.

Simply saying things like “I love you” or “You are in my thoughts” could just be what your friend needs to hear from you.

However, you may want to avoid incessantly asking “How you are doing?” they may say in their mind; does she really wants me to answer that question.  Why not ask something like “How are you holding up? ”This will make it easy for the person to open up".

More pointers and suggestions on how to talk to a person with cancer can be found here.

Things you can do for your friend with breast cancer

There are many practical ways you can help breast cancer patients, for example:-

Keep in touch with the person or their caregiver

This may involve calling as many times as appropriate, visiting them or sending someone to visit if you are unavailable. Paying a visit to friends can boost their spirits, yours and that of their caregivers. Put a call through before visiting and make sure you give them enough of your time, don’t rush to leave. Try making future plans of what things you will do or talk about when you see them again, it builds anticipation in the mind of your friend.

Speak respectfully

Although there is no right or wrong way to speak to a person with cancer and it is OK if you don’t know what to say, carefully choosing what you say can also help you show your support.

If it's a man you know with breast cancer (yes men can get diagnosed with breast cancer too!), don't question why they have a “woman's disease” or insist they have the wrong diagnosis. They have probably raised these questions themselves already and sought medical advice on their diagnosis. And please take into account that men with breast cancer often need even more support because they feel out of place.

Phrases that are unhelpful to cancer patients

Sometimes you might say something that you don’t even realize is insensitive.

Here are some examples of (what many people say and) what you should not to say:

  • I know how you feel.
  • I know what you should do.
  • You will be ok
  • You are brave/strong
  • Keep fighting
  • Don’t worry.
  • How long do you have?
  • Everything happens for a reason.
  • What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
  • This is God’s plan.

And unless you are qualified, please don't offer medical advice or opinions. They probably have had enough of that.

Listen to them

There is time to speak and a time to keep quite so the saying goes, look for an opportunity where you can be more of a listener to your friend than a speaker. That way you get to know how they are feeling and how you can help. It may also prevent you from saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Always remember that your friend may not want to talk about their health, diagnosis or treatment all the time and/or may want to intermittently. So ask them if they want to talk about it and let your friend do all the talking. You can ask your friend how they are holding up, and then really listen to them without pulling away, either physically or emotionally. Even if your friend starts to talk about death or funerals don’t change the subject, just listen.

Cook for them

Sometimes, a breast cancer patient may not have an appetite or may get tired of hospital food. It may be a good thing if you can prepare your friend a meal and bring it for them. You may visit their home and do their cooking for them. But different therapies can change their eating habits and tastes. They might also be restricted in what they can eat, so do check with them before you make them anything.

Pray with them

If your friend is the religious type, hearing you pray for them to cope with their problem can be very comforting.

Buy a well thought out gift

Finding the right breast cancer gift is not easy. Not everyone with breast cancer has surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.

It is also a common assumption that only women get breast cancer and often gifts for breast cancer are female-focused. Whilst we do focus on breast cancer gift ideas in another article, here are a few suggestions.

Positive books about breast cancer

They may not want to talk about their diagnosis, but it doesn't mean they are not thinking about it and appropriate breast cancer books with positive messages may be what they need to settle or consolidate their thoughts.

Care packages

A thoughtful and appropriate breast cancer care package is guaranteed to make your friend/loved one know that you are looking after them.  Designed by people who have had experience with cancer, these hampers combine luxury pampering presents with practical and useful items.  Containing not just items that will help reduce specific side effects and symptoms of cancer, but also pampering and comforting gifts. Often these gifts are bought together with family and friends.

Items to help with breast cancer surgery

The whole breast cancer surgery journey can be hard, from preparation to recovery there is a lot to take in and process. This could be made a tiny bit easy with mindfulness books, products that aid mastectomy and/or surgery recovery.

This could include one of our breast cancer surgery care packages, as below.

Here are some categories of cancer gifts

Designed for both men and women, appropriate for people diagnosed with breast cancer at various stages of diagnosis or treatment.

Specify how you want to help

Just telling someone diagnosed with breast cancer to call when they need your help is not enough. Action speaks louder than voice. So, offer practical help, such as picking up their grocery, cleaning their home for them, caring for their pets, doing their laundry or even watching over their kids. You may even offer to drive them to their medical appointment.

Send them a card

Cancer empathy cards can include encouraging, humorous and comforting words that may help them to keep on going.

Cry and laugh together

Your friend’s emotions can change from happiness to sadness and vice versa. Don’t try to stop them when they give way to tears, it may help to relieve their stress or lift their spirits.

Don’t stop even when others do

Endeavor to be a friend who keeps offering help and support, because breast cancer treatment and recovery can take a long time. It may even come back after recovery. Give them the help and support they need.


A breast cancer diagnosis brings different emotions in different people, your friend’s feelings may change daily or even hourly. Since you cannot predict how your friend will feel, you will need to respect their change in mood. The best way to support them is sit and listen as your friend speaks or opens up to you.

Offer to help and follow through or do specific things for your friend, even if they don’t want your help. Respect their decision and be open to do anything when they want you to do.

Saying nothing at all may be the best thing you could ever say. Letting your friend know you have got their back through their ordeal may be very comforting to them.

Further reading

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