How to Support a Loved One Who Is Getting a Mastectomy
It's sometimes more challenging to watch a loved one experience hardships than to face those challenges yourself.
If you know someone who is having a mastectomy, here are some ways to serve as an effective support system.
1. Choose your words mindfully
Words that mean well don't always come across as supportive. When dealing with tough times, people need a listening ear more than they need advice, coaching or misguided empathy. You might think you know how the other person feels, but everyone internalizes situations differently. Using phrases like, "I know exactly how you feel," or monopolizing the conversation by talking about your experiences are not helpful. Instead, just listen.
Ask open-ended questions, encouraging your loved one to share, but don't bog them down with details. It's understandable to be overwhelmed when a significant surgery is on the horizon. Asking too many specific questions can make the other person feel more like they're facing an interrogation, which can add stress rather than the intended relief.
2. Tell others about the mastectomy, with permission
Ask if your loved one would like you to let others know about the surgery. You should never assume it's OK to spread news regarding another person's health. However, your loved one may want others to know but not feel up to telling them.
Ask if you can help by calling specific people to inform them about the upcoming surgery and provide updates. Taking the initiative to make others aware can take an emotional load off your loved one's shoulders and increase the level of support they'll receive from friends and family before and after surgery.
3. Be sensitive to the need for breaks
Cancer treatment is physically and emotionally taxing. Your loved one may decline social invitations because they don't have the energy to attend. Let them know that it's OK to say no.
Keep checking in on how they're feeling, but talk about other topics as well.
If they have children, offer to help with child care in a way that doesn't get in the way. For example, you could take their kids to and from the playground, provide fun crafts to keep them busy, or help out with their homework.
A mastectomy is a major surgery. It won't take long for your loved one to feel like cancer is consuming every aspect of their life. Keep checking in on how they're feeling, but talk about other topics as well. Keep conversations lighthearted when possible by discussing television shows, books, and topics that don't revolve around cancer. Yes, their diagnosis is major but shouldn't define every moment of their day.
4. Gather items for surgery recovery
Items that can be helpful after a mastectomy include:
- Detachable showerhead and chair for the shower
- Front-closure bras and camisoles with built-in bras
- Mastectomy pillow and seat-belt pillow to help protect incisions
- Tea with honey, throat lozenges and popsicles to soothe a sore throat after intubation
- A wedge pillow for getting comfortable on the couch
- Zip-up jackets and open-front sweaters
Preparing meals, offering rides, helping with household chores, and even assisting with phone calls and paperwork can make a big difference in your loved one's recovery.
Focus on practical necessities rather than luxury items.
If the time required for recovery means your loved one needs to take time off work or has expensive medical bills, think about ways to help financially. Reach out to trusted friends and relatives (and co-workers if they're privy to the information) to request a contribution. Present it to your loved one with a group card that credits everyone who pitched in.
If you suspect that they'll feel uncomfortable accepting cash, purchase gift cards for items like grocery delivery, takeout meals, gas or a cleaning service. Focus on practical necessities rather than luxury items.
5. If you're not sure, ask
You don't have to be a mind reader to be supportive. Not everyone reacts to a cancer diagnosis the same way. Some people appreciate regular check-ins and financial help, while others find the extra attention intrusive.
If you're on the fence about whether to prepare meals, visit unexpectedly or raise funds for your loved one, let them know of your plans and make sure they approve first.