Practical Ways to Help as a Caregiver

When someone you care about is diagnosed with breast cancer, you want to help any way you can. You may not be sure where to start, what they will need, or even what kind of help you can actually offer. However, be sure that at some point they will need you.

At first, just try to communicate with them as openly as possible about her diagnosis, making sure to listen more than you talk. Even listening can make you very emotional, as you hear what the emotions of your loved one are. Both of your emotions may become intertwined and connected.1 If you are able to share your emotions with each other openly, they will feel much more supported, and you will feel much more like a helper. If your loved one is not yet ready to speak openly, then wait patiently and the time will come.

Be a Personal Assistant

With a diagnosis of breast cancer will come a lot of doctor’s visits, appointments, paperwork and clutter. It may be overwhelming at first, but keeping this information organized will allow both of you to slow down and let the information sink in emotionally and mentally. As the paperwork begins to stack up, you could suggest ways to organize it that would be helpful to her. A great way to do so is to organize a binder that could hold information she receives concerning:

  • Her medical test results
  • Treatment options
  • Insurance forms
  • Community Resources
  • Personal contact information for various family members, friends, and other caregivers

All of this information will be valuable to have handy and helpful throughout breast cancer treatment. It would be one less concern if this information was well-organized and easily accessible. This is a simple task but is very important for the patient, allowing them to focus on their health and treatment.

You might also suggest that they begin writing all of their questions and concerns down in a notebook as they occur. It may be helpful for the breast cancer patient to have a caregiver accompany her to her doctor’s appointments in order to take notes. Those notes could be recorded in the same notebook as the questions and concerns, to make sure that all concerns are addressed.

Empowered by Knowledge

Likely, you will begin to do some of your own research about breast cancer when a loved one is diagnosed. As you do this, be sure that you are using reliable and trusted sources for your information. The more you learn, the more empowered you will feel about helping her through her treatment.

Before you begin to share the information you’ve discovered, make sure they are ready to hear it. Make sure not to “lecture at” them, as no one likes to be treated like a child. If your loved one likes or needs to be the one to discover the information on their own, be respectful of that.2 Trust in the fact that becoming a student for yourself is a good thing and that it will benefit you in your role as a caregiver. The more informed you are, the more helpful you will be.


1 Thomas, Carol; Sara M Morris and Juliet C Harman. (February 2002) Companions through cancer::the care given by informal carers in cancer contexts.  Social Science & Medicine. V 54:4, 529-544.

2 van Uden-Kraan, Cornelia F; Consstance H C Drossaert; Erik Taal; Bret R Shaw; Erwin R Seydel; Mart A F van de Laar. (March 2008) Empowering Processes and Outcomes of Participation in Online Support Groups for Patients With Breast Cancer, Arthritis, or Fibromyalgia. V 18:3, 405-417.

This article was originally published on July 27,2012 and last revision and update of it was 9/2/2015.