MM Whole Patient Support Archives

Multiple Myeloma can unleash a whirlwind of unexpected emotions and experiences for patients and care partners. You are more than just a patient; more than just a treatment plan.

Whether your concerns are physical, emotional, nutritional, or spiritual, we can help.

More resources for Multiple Myeloma Whole Patient Support from Patient Empowerment Network.

How to Make an Informed Myeloma Treatment Decision

How to Make an Informed Myeloma Treatment Decision from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

When faced with several treatment options, how can you decide on the best therapy for your myeloma? In this explainer video, Sandra and her doctor walk through important considerations when choosing a plan, and provide advice for partnering with your healthcare team.

Download our Myeloma Office Visit Planner to help you have productive conversations with your healthcare team, here.

See More From Engage Myeloma


Related Programs:

Myeloma Treatment Decisions: What Should Be Considered?

How to Play an Active Role in Your Myeloma Treatment and Care Decisions

Myeloma Treatment: When Should a Clinical Trial Be Considered?

 


Transcript:

Sandra:

Hi, I’m Sandra. Nice to meet you!

Several years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. I had bone pain and felt very tried so I went to see my doctor – my bloodwork indicated that it may be multiple myeloma and I was referred to a hematologist.

After a series of tests, my diagnosis was confirmed. I was overwhelmed when I learned that I had a blood cancer, but my hematologist, Dr. Reynolds, told me more about the condition and how it’s managed.

Here’s Dr. Reynolds – she can explain it further.

Dr. Reynolds:

Hi! I’m Dr. Reynolds, and I’m a hematologist specializing in the care and treatment of people with myeloma. The different types of myeloma are:

Monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance or MGUS (pronounced em-gus or M-Gus). MGUS typically has no signs or symptoms and is characterized by an abnormal protein in the blood or urine.

And, smoldering myeloma, which is a very slow-growing type of myeloma. It also does not present with symptoms. Patients with smoldering myeloma have a higher chance of needing treatment, so blood and urine studies are ordered regularly.

Last is multiple myeloma. Multiple myeloma is a buildup of plasma cells in the bone marrow that crowds out healthy cells, causing symptoms and other problems in the body.

Sandra:

As part of my diagnosis, Dr. Reynolds ordered a series of tests that included a blood test, bone marrow biopsy, urine test, and imaging.

Dr. Reynolds:

That’s right. We also did additional testing to identify any specific chromosomal or DNA abnormalities to get a better understanding of the genetic nature of the myeloma cells. The results of these tests helped us learn more about the extent of Sandra’s myeloma, her prognosis, and which treatment plan could be most effective.

Sandra:

After I was diagnosed and we had all of my test results, I met with Dr. Reynolds, and she walked me through the goals of treatment for my myeloma.

Dr. Reynolds:

Right! First, we talked about the clinical goals of treatment, which are to slow the progression of the disease and to induce remission.

And, it’s important to note that because each person’s myeloma is different, they are treated differently – be sure to discuss the specific goals of YOUR myeloma with your doctor.

Sandra and I reviewed the effectiveness of each treatment option, including how treatment would be administered, and took all of her test results into consideration to make sure we found the best, most personalized treatment option for her myeloma.

Sandra:

Next, we talked about another key treatment goal: symptom management. Dr. Reynolds asked me to let her know about any symptoms that I experience.

Dr. Reynolds:

Exactly, Sandra. A significant change in symptoms can indicate that it may be time to adjust treatment, if the symptoms are due to the prescribed medication, or that the disease might be changing.

Common symptoms may include fatigue or weakness, loss of appetite, excessive thirst, and weight loss, among others. This is why it’s important to not only have lab work and regular visits with your hematologist, but it’s essential to share about any symptoms you may be having, even if you don’t think it’s related to your myeloma.

And, last but not least, we discussed the most important treatment goal: Sandra’s goals. Sandra let me know that she’s very social and enjoys traveling and spending time with her family – we wanted to make sure she could continue doing the activities she loves.

Sandra:

Then, Dr. Reynolds reviewed each of the treatment approaches with me, including potential side effects and how it may impact my lifestyle. We discussed the pros and cons of each option, and we went over what our next steps would be if the treatment plan needed to be adjusted.

Dr. Reynolds:

Exactly! When deciding on therapy, you and your doctor may also consider:

  • Your age and overall health,
  • Any presence or history of other medical problems, and
  • The financial impact of a treatment plan.

Sandra:

In addition to asking questions, my sister, Beth, took notes during our appointments, since it was often hard for me to absorb everything at once.

We also made sure to talk about the appointment on our way home, while the information was fresh on our minds. And we did our part by researching myeloma and bringing a list of questions to each appointment.

Beth found an office visit planner on the Patient Empowerment Network website that helped me organize my health info and questions.

Dr. Reynolds:

As you can see, Sandra and her sister were actively engaged in each care decision. It’s vital that patients feel empowered to speak up. If you can, bring a friend or loved one along to your appointment.

And, if you are able, it’s a good idea to seek a second opinion or a consultation with a myeloma specialist to help you feel confident in your care decisions.

Sandra:

Dr. Reynolds let me know that she would monitor my condition through regular physical exams, blood work and frequent communication. She made Beth and I feel included in the decision-making process, as if it were a collaboration.

Dr. Reynolds:

That’s right! This is a partnership. So, what steps can you take to be more engaged in your care?

  • Bring a friend or loved one to your appointments.
  • Understand and articulate the goals of your treatment plan.
  • Ask about relevant myeloma testing.
  • Learn about your options and weigh the pros and cons of each approach.
  • And, consider a second opinion or a consult with a specialist.

Sandra:

That’s great advice, Dr. Reynolds. To learn more, visit powerfulpatients.org/myeloma to access a library of tools.

Thanks for joining us!

Peer-to-Peer Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients

Peer-to-Peer Advice for Newly Diagnosed Myeloma Patients from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Myeloma Network Manager Honora and Myeloma patient Barry stress the importance of finding a myeloma specialist as soon as possible, finding a support group, being comfortable with your healthcare team. Remaining hopeful and positive throughout your diagnosis is key.


Transcript:

Honora Miller

I’d like to point out the importance of finding a myeloma specialist as soon as possible in your myeloma journey. There have been studies done, I can’t point to the specifics of one at this moment, there have been studies done that have shown that myeloma patients who have a myeloma specialist have a better long-term outcomeWhen you get a myeloma specialist, they’re dealing, they’ve dealt with hundreds, perhaps thousands of myeloma patients, and because of the complexity and variation of the myeloma with the disease, really you need to have that level of knowledge. So that would be something that I would encourage somebody newly diagnosed to find, to be referred to a myeloma specialist, possibly not as their primary provider, but as a secondary guider of the process. I do have that. So, I have a second doctor who I meet with quarterly, say, who is at a different institution who guides my myeloma treatment, and he’s a myeloma specialist and he handled my stem cell transplant. 

Barry Marcus

I think it’s very important to have a support group. Somebody who is newly diagnosed, I would counsel them to seek out a support group now it’s hard in the time of COVID, the support group that I was in, quit meeting because of it. I’m right now in the process of trying to find another one that meets virtually, and I would highly recommend that it feels good to connect with people who are going through the same things that you are, and maybe get varied perspectives on different issues around myeloma.  

I really want to emphasize how important it is to get information and to feel comfortable with your health team and the care that you’re getting and pursue that. Don’t feel like you’re worried about offending anybody, because in the first place, probably you’re not. In the second place, it’s your life. If you die, they go on to the next patient. And you’re done. 

 Honora Miller

True enough. True enough. For new patients, and I’ve talked to quite a few, having hope is something that is very important and having a positive outlook, and when you get this sudden diagnosis, it’s very scary and overwhelming. But I want to encourage people to remain hopeful, to stay positive, this is an as yet incurable cancer, but it’s being treated more and more like a chronic disease, and there’s never been a time as good as now in terms of the number of treatment options and new drugs that are coming down the pipeline, so it’s a time of great hope for myeloma, and I want to emphasize that for people because I do think that it’s important for people to hold on to that. 

Barry Marcus

I couldn’t agree more. That’s well said.

Checking the Pulse on Multiple Myeloma Health Disparities

Even before the coronavirus pandemic arrived, health and patient support organizations made resolute efforts to examine and address health inequities for multiple myeloma patients in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. Diverse Health Hub and the Patient Empowerment Network partnered to help improve health outcomes for underserved myeloma patients through the Diverse Partners in Your Myeloma Care program. With a tumultuous year filled with the killing of George Floyd, social unrest, and coronavirus health disparities for BIPOC groups, these issues prompted us to focus on where things stand with multiple myeloma health disparities. We’ll take a look at what we know, what we’ve learned, and what help and resources are needed to continue advancing care for BIPOC myeloma patients.

Disparity Facts About BIPOC Myeloma Patients

  • Both Black Americans and Latina and Latino Americans show a myeloma precursor called MGUS, or monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance, more frequently than others—.88 percent in Black Americans, .44 percent in Latina and Latino Americans, and .22 percent in white Americans.

  • Although multiple myeloma is diagnosed at a younger age in both Black Americans and Latina and Latino Americans, both groups are less likely to receive a transplant and start treatment later than patients of other races.

  • Black Americans are actually known to have less aggressive myeloma, which should show better health outcomes—yet that is not the case.

multiple myeloma diagnosis.png

Learnings About BIPOC Myeloma Patients

Black and other BIPOC patients often have mistrust of doctors and researchers due to past experiments like the Tuskegee Study and Henrietta Lacks – whose now infamous immortal HeLa cells were taken without her consent. “If I were to walk into any community, African American community, or underserved community, that is one of the first things. They’re going to be mistrustful of me. And it’s a very difficult barrier to overcome. And that also leads over into African Americans contributing, being donors, African Americans participating in trials. It all feeds over into everything that’s done in the African American community or underserved community in regards to healthcare,” says patient navigator Diahanna Vallentine.

Barriers to care must be overcome according to Dr. Sikander Ailawadhi from the Mayo Clinic, “Myeloma patients who are African-American and Hispanic typically get to the right treatment much later. In a lot of cases they may not get to the right treatment at all. We also know that the burden of cost of care is much higher for minority patients.”

Improvements are happening in care as explained by Dr. Ajay Nooka from Emory University School of Medicine, “What’s really interesting in this meeting is that there has been a lot of large database integrations, including one database called the National Cancer Database (NCBD) where people have looked at 20-year history of how these treatments have panned out. Which of the minority populations or which subset of patients gained the most benefit over the last 20 years? And we see minorities have gotten a lot of improvement and a lot of access to care over the last 20 years, but that’s not the end of the story, we have to catch up a lot more.”

The Path to Health Equity

Although the additional focus on health inequities has started to improve access to care, there is still a critical need to raise awareness about the treatment gaps for myeloma patients in BIPOC populations. How can myeloma patients get the best care no matter where they live when factors like age, geography, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, gender, and insurance type heavily influence the path to better health outcomes?

Some valuable steps that patients, community leaders, and healthcare providers can take to improve care include:

  • Support organizations providing educational materials to patients that are target specific BIPOC groups

  • Patients and advocates making the BIPOC voice heard by asking for funds from community and political leaders to improve care

  • Healthcare providers developing relationships and partnerships with political leaders and support organizations to continue building momentum in improving patient care

  • Patients taking advantage of social workers and patient navigators at their clinics and support organizations

  • Patients, advocates, and healthcare providers working to increase clinical trial participation

  • Healthcare providers integrating cultural competency as a universal approach in the healthcare model

Resources like myeloma patient resource guides, informational graphics, and the Myeloma Coach section on the Myeloma Crowd website provide valuable information for patients. And though trust of clinical trials by BIPOC populations remains an issue, there are initiatives like Diversity in Clinical Trials Benefits Everyone. BIPOC patients can take action working together with medical researchers to increase clinical trial participation to improve and refine myeloma treatment developments for specific patient populations. If you want to explore options in your treatment, seek out resources that embrace diversity in clinical trials. The “All of Us” program is a public health initiative designed to remove the barriers that prevent inclusive access.

Participating in clinical trials not only will improve myeloma treatments down the line but also provides a minimum of standard of care treatment at no cost to the patient. It’s a win-win for both the patient who participates in the study and  also helps the progression of treatment for BIPOC patients diagnosed with myeloma in the future. Though progress has been made, patients, advocates, community leaders, and healthcare providers must take action to continue an upward movement to achieve equitable care that BIPOC myeloma patients deserve. Take advantage of the resources below and continue to visit our Multiple Myeloma Hub as we publish more on health equity developments for multiple myeloma.

Resources to Learn About Improving Myeloma Health Disparities

Disparities Around Health Technology Access for Subset of Myeloma Patients

Good News for Myeloma Treatment Today – Still Addressing Race-Associated Risks

2020 Shaping Up to Be a Big Year for Multiple Myeloma Treatment

How Can a Myeloma Patient Advocate/Financial Advisor Help

Is It Possible to Achieve Health Equity in Multiple Myeloma?

Are Myeloma Clinical Trials More Critical for African Americans?

A Multiple Myeloma Advocate’s Uphill Battle to Care

What Do Disparities in Multiple Myeloma Look Like?

How a Second Opinion Saved a Myeloma Patient’s Life 

Myths vs. Facts: Myeloma Health Disparities Care Infographic

How Can I Get the Best Multiple Myeloma Care No Matter Where I Live? Resource Guide

Diversity in Clinical Trials Benefits Everyone

Sources

How Can a Myeloma Patient Advocate/Financial Advisor Help? Patient Empowerment Network website. https://powerfulpatients.org/2020/08/17/how-can-a-myeloma-patient-advocate-financial-advisor-help/ Accessed October 19, 2020.

The Power of Journaling During Cancer Treatment

There are two ways to fight cancer, both of which are equally as important. The first is physical and the second mental. Journaling might not be able to help with the physical symptoms, but easing the mind can truly help in such situations.

By providing a safe place to store your thoughts and experiences, you will be able to find a great source of power. If you have never thought about journaling before, this might be the perfect time for you to give it a try. Here are some important reasons why this might be a very great decision.

1. Keeping track of all important moments

Some people believe that battling cancer is only filled with negative moments and experiences. While that is true to a big extent, there can be plenty of memorable moments that you might want to keep track of. The beginning of your treatments is a moment that you can write about and think about when this situation is over.

Other important moments might include family gatherings, important presents you might receive, very bad and very good days that stand out in your treatment course. Just because a day way difficult doesn’t mean it should be considered bad. At the end of this difficult journey, you will be able to look back at everything you wrote and remember the good and bad times.

2. Helping ease certain symptoms

Another great reason why journaling can truly help cancer patients during their treatments is because of symptom management. Research has actually shown that journaling can help with combating symptoms and dealing with the physical size of things.

Writing about how you feel and what you are going through can help you sleep better and feel more energetic. Getting plenty of rest will allow you to feel less nauseous, be in a better mood and battle everything with a stronger will. The more you face your symptoms, the stronger you will feel through your treatment.

3. Fighting against the stress

The stress that can be caused by such a difficult diagnosis is great and can truly affect your mood and outlook on life. Being under stress can make you feel tired, mess up your sleeping schedule and make you feel more negative about everything. This is not ideal for any situation you are in in your life and there are ways to overcome it.

Journaling can provide you with a safe space to write everything you have in your mind. During your treatments, you will possibly want to appear strong in front of your family and you might not want to share everything you feel. You can write all your thoughts in your journal and let everything out. This way you will be able to handle everything you face and feel a lot less stressed.

4. Reminding yourself of things you love

When dealing with any hardship in life, it is important to keep thinking of things that bring you joy. Journaling has helped me create a notebook full of memories, which I can go through any time I need some positivity in my life. You don’t only have to put words into it but anything and everything that makes you think of memories and people you hold dear.

In your journal you can keep stickers, receipts, drawings and cards from loved ones. Then you can write how receiving these things made you felt. When the days get difficult and you are struggling, open your journal again. Read through everything nice you have collected and it can help you remember all the reasons why this difficult process is worth it.

5. Seeing all the progress you have made

Last but not least, another important reason why journaling is so helpful during cancer treatment is that it can help keep track of your progress. There are going to be many days that will be hard and many that will be good and filled with hope. In order to be able to go through both, it is important that you keep track of everything new that happens in your journey.

The good days will help you remember that things will get better. The difficult days will allow you to live in the moment and work on staying positive. Journaling this experience can also help your family better understand what goes on in your head and how they can help. After you have successfully put this difficult period of your life behind, you can even share your story with other patients through your journal.

Battling cancer every way possible

Journaling is a creative and fun activity that can help you deal with certain symptoms and negative thoughts during your treatment. Even if you have little experience with writing, journaling gives you the chance to get creative. You don’t need any special skills in order to journal. You just need a notebook, some fun colors and a few thoughts in your head.

Through writing about your experiences, you will be able to express how you feel and let everything run its course. This treatment course might be tough, but writing everything down will help you see just how much progress you are making. This can truly help you feel stronger mentally and physically and overcome this situation like a true warrior!

Why Myeloma Patients Should Speak Up: Advice from a Nurse Practitioner

 

Why Myeloma Patients Should Speak Up: Advice from a Nurse Practitioner from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Speaking up, or self-advocating, may influence a myeloma patient’s health outcome. Charise Gleason provides a brief explanation of why patients should ask questions and seek advice from their healthcare team without hesitation.

Charise Gleason is a nurse practitioner specializing in myeloma and serves as the Advanced Practice Provider Chief at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University. Learn more about Charise, here.

See More From The Pro-Active Myeloma Patient Toolkit

Related Resources:

How to Get the Best Multiple Myeloma Care No Matter Where I Live?

Myeloma Targeted Therapy: Why Identifying Chromosomal Abnormalities is Key

How Targeted Therapy Works to Treat Myeloma

Transcript:

Charise:

I think for patients it’s important to ask questions. I think sometimes they feel like, “I’m sorry I’m asking this,” or, “I’m sorry I’m telling you all about my side effects.” And that’s what’s supposed to happen at our visits.

So, I think patients and their family members or caregivers are their best advocate. And they should never feel bad about asking questions, reaching our, reminding their team of things, and being that advocate. We know about side effects. And we know about these treatments. And we can tell them, but we’re not experiencing them. So, there’s nothing that’s too small. And with everything we do, come some sort of side effect. So, it’s really a team approach to manage these things. And you never want patients to be suffering through. And reaching out to your team, even between visits, is really important.

Writing things down. Coming to a visit with a list of questions. These visits go quickly and if you come with those five things you really want to ask, or more… But have them written down so you don’t miss it in your visit so you feel like you’re part of that discussion and you’re getting the information that you need.

Take Care of Yourself and Your Family’s Health

Building Resilience and Boosting Immunity

At a time when health is top of mind for everyone, despite the stressors, how can we ensure to emerge emotionally, physically and mentally resilient? Patient Empowerment Network Care Partner Manager, Sherea Cary sits down with distinguished guests, Sara Goldberger and Dr. Shivdev Rao to discuss building resilience and boosting immunity. Both experts define resilience, provide tips for boosting heart-lung health and provide useful tools for cultivating resilience.

Defining Resilience

Defining Resilience from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Tips for Boosting Heart and Lung Health

Tips for Boosting Heart and Lung Health from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Community Resources & Tools for Cultivating Resilience

Community Resources and Tools for Cultivating Resilience from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Oncology Social Worker Checklist

Resiliency Checklist During the Time of COVID-19


Sara Goldberger, MSSW, LCSW-R, has been an oncology social worker for 30 years. Currently she is the Senior Director, Program for the Cancer Support Community Headquarters. She has also worked in hospitals and community NFP settings. She is a member of several Advisory Boards is a frequent presenter and author. As AOSW strives to continue to advance excellence in psychosocial oncology, Sara hopes to play a part in efforts to educate, advocate, develop resources, expand on research initiatives, and create networking opportunities so that AOSW can improve the care of people impacted by a cancer diagnosis.

Turning Your Home Into a Sanctuary

In Five Simple Steps

These days, whether you’re spending more time there or you need a place to unwind after a long day, you need to feel like your home is your happy place. With the help of a few simple tips you can turn your home into your very own sanctuary.

1. Define your sanctuary

Think about where and when you feel the most comfortable and happy; then bring elements of that into your space. Whether you feel your best reading under a cozy blanket and low lighting, or painting in a sunlit room, consider your needs for the space. It doesn’t have to be complicated, says Professional Organizer Kristy Potgieter at KLP Organizing, LLC. Her philosophy is: simple is better.

2. Appeal to the senses

Sound, smell, and color can all evoke emotions. Play music that soothes you or makes you happy, use candles, oils, or incense to fill your space with your favorite scents, and paint your walls with neutral or calming colors. Even changing out your light bulbs can make a difference. Pink light bulbs give a warm, calm glow to your space.

3. Ditch the clutter

Clutter causes anxiety and stress so your best bet is to get rid of it. While clutter looks different to everyone, a good rule of thumb is to remove anything that doesn’t serve a purpose or make you happy. For the things you use on a regular basis, Potgieter recommends storing them in baskets and bins, which can be both decorative and functional. She also says keeping your kitchen counters clear is a simple way to make your home appear clutter-free.

4. Bring nature inside

You can place a vase of fresh-cut flowers on your table or bring in some house plants. If you don’t have a green thumb, a photo of the ocean, a wall painted green, a water fountain, some seashells, or a piece of wood are all okay ways to incorporate nature into your home. It can be as simple as opening a window and letting in the sunlight, which is a known mood booster.

5. Unplug from technology

You don’t have to ban technology altogether, but pick times, such as during meals and the hour before bed, to not use technology at all. Spend less time on social media platforms by deleting the apps on your phone and only using your computer to log onto those sites. You can also use the “do not disturb” settings on your devices to allow yourself some down time.

 

Whatever you do, remember Potgieter’s philosophy and keep it simple. Address the things that are most important to you and let the other stuff go. “The first thing I think of when making a home a sanctuary is really taking a look around and making sure all the things you see are things you love,” she says.

Daily Practices for Cultivating Awareness and Anchoring Yourself in Resilience

Resilience is our capacity to bounce back from the inevitable challenges of being alive. When challenges arise, our meandering minds can take us into various worrisome directions, leading to a host of negative emotional states and their subsequent adverse effects on our well-being.

Although we may not have control over the external factors in our lives or needless to say our genetic predispositions, we do have the capacity to cultivate inner psychological faculties that enable us to weather the storms of life with relative calm. For most of us, these internal resources are underdeveloped. They require intentional cultivation through the regular practice of actions that support their development. Among these inner resources are self-awareness, self-acceptance, and a secure inner base to fall back on.

What is Resilience?

What is Resilience? from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Anchoring the Mind

Anchoring the Mind from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Focusing the attention on the natural breathing process and body cultivates self-awareness and tends to have a calming effect on the mind. By doing so non-judgmentally, we accept the process as it is truly experienced. This is not an advocation of apathy towards our lives. To the contrary, by shining the light of awareness on our experience and accepting it as it truly is, we are given a clarity from which to make any necessary course corrections in our lives.

Awareness of Breath

Awareness of Breath from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

Awareness of Body

Awareness of Body from Patient Empowerment Network on Vimeo.

A secure base is supported by continually returning our attention to our breath and body when distracted by the meandering nature of the mind. By regularly practicing the activities here offered you can enhance your capacity to bounce back and calmly weather the fluctuating trials of life.


Broderick Rodell has a PhD in chemical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University. His search for self-betterment led to his passion for mindfulness. He considers himself a dedicated student and practitioner of yoga including contemplation, meditation, breath work, and mindful movement. Broderick believes that through individual evolution we can all tap into greater possibilities within ourselves.

PEN-Powered Activity Guide

How Can You Best Support A Friend With Cancer?

What happens when someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer?

How do you find the right words to say?

What is the best way to support them?

And how do you cope with your own emotions and feelings at the same time?

In this month’s article, I am sharing advice that comes directly from those who have personal experience of cancer – either as a patient themselves or as a friend or family member to someone with cancer.  The following tips are some of the things that friends said and did that were most helpful to cancer patients at the time of diagnosis and treatment.

Firstly, acknowledge that this can be a hard time for you too

Hearing that a friend has been diagnosed with cancer may impact you in ways that you might not be prepared for.  You may have many different emotions to cope with. You may feel angry, sad, and scared that this is happening to your friend. You may even find the news hard to take in and feel numb.   Breast cancer survivor, Nicole McClean[1] describes her feelings of numbness on hearing the news that her best friend was diagnosed with the same disease:  “I didn’t know what to feel. I didn’t know what to say. Everything I had said to other people didn’t really apply because this was MY friend. Not a stranger that I was comforting. Not even myself that I had to give a pep talk to.”

But don’t make it about you

In the shock of hearing about a friend’s diagnosis, it can be tempting to slip into a place of dwelling on your own fears and anxieties.  Nicole cautions others not to make this about themselves. “Please don’t be a friend like me. Don’t be the friend who makes the person with the diagnosis have to stop her own grieving to console you,” she says. “This is her moment. Her time to BE consoled. I don’t ever want her to feel like she needs to console me or comfort me during this time. That’s no longer her role. It is now mine.”

Just ask what’s needed

“My number one tip,” says radiation oncologist, Dr Matthew Katz (@subatomicdoc),  is “just ask what you can do to help. It can be hard to predict and may vary at different times in the cancer experience.”  Breast  surgeon, Dr Deanna Attai (@DrAttai) agrees: “Ask the patient what do you need, ask if they just want some company to sit, listen and be present.”

Above all, advises author and advocate, Nancy Stordahl (@NancysPoint) “don’t try to be a fixer and please, avoid using platitudes. Don’t tell her she’s strong, brave or courageous. Don’t add to her burden by making her feel she must live up to some gold standard of “doing cancer right”. Let her be real. Witness her pain. Listen. Just be there.”

Listen, hear and do

“The steps to being a good friend and supporter are simple”, says Nicole, “Listen and do.”  The first part is listening. “Listen to her. Or just sit with her silently. But either way, give her space where she’s comfortable sharing with you what’s in her heart without that moment becoming about you.“  

John Moore (@john_chilmark), founder of Chilmark Research, echoes this when he says: “Listen, truly listen and they will open up in time to the fear they hold within – just how scary it can be at times.”

Julia, co-founder of online breast cancer support community @BCCWW agrees. “Listen and hear,” she advises,  “if they have bad days let them, cancer isn’t fun times. Flip side: if they feel good, believe them.”

And it’s ok to not know what to say sometimes.

“Something that I think is helpful is for friends and family to remember that it’s okay if you don’t know what to say to the person with cancer,” explains Lisa Valentine (@HabitgratLisa), ·who blogs at habitualgratitude.com. “Show up, say “I don’t know what to say, but I am here for you.” Take it from there. Showing up and listening usually takes care of what can happen next.”

HER2 breast cancer patient, Tracy (@tracyintenbury) suggests offering to go to “chemo sessions if the person with cancer would otherwise be attending alone.”  Metastatic breast cancer patient, Ilene Kaminsky (@ilenealizah) appreciated those who attended medical appointments with her “especially during the first months when everything seemed to proceed at the pace of tar, and again during critical appointments/ chemo days.”

Do what needs to be done

Don’t ask her what she needs, just do something that she needs,”  recommends Nicole. “Show up, and help out.” Chair of Cardiomyopathy, CR UK patient board and NCRI rep for kidney and bladder cancer, Alison Fielding (@alisonfielding) agrees: “Make specific offers of help such as lifts, company or chores rather than waiting to be asked.”

“Anyone who said let me know if you need anything wasn’t going to get an answer,” explains Ilene “so during difficult times, one or two of my friends would do my wash, change the sheets and put the clothes away. She’d bring me smoothies while I’d be knocked out from my pre-taxol Benadryl and knew exactly what I’d like.”

Clinical Professor of Pathology, Dr David Grenache (@ClinChemDoc), cautions following through with offers of help. “From experience: when you tell them you will do what you can to help, then follow through with that when you are asked for help.  You may have to drop a high priority task but when the call for help comes. Go!” 

Victoria (@terrortoria), founder and community manager of @YBCN_UK (which supports young women with breast cancer), recalls a friend who “made home made soup for me when I told her I couldn’t bring myself to eat things. She left them on my doorstep as I couldn’t bring myself to see people either for a time. It was a 90-minute round trip for her. She’d listened to how I felt and then helped me within my limits.”

This theme of cooked meals comes up again and again. 

“Cook meals so the person with cancer has something warm and nutritious,” recommends Tracy.  Maureen Kenny (@MaureenKenny1), a patient living with secondary breast cancer, agrees, saying “you can never go wrong with a cooked meal.”

After a long day in hospital, breast cancer patient advocate, Siobhan Feeney (@BreastDense)  recalls the day she came home to find “in the porch, cooked dinner, homemade bread, marmalade and fresh eggs.” A gift she says she’ll never forget. 

Alleviating the pressure of cooking and housework is a super practical way to help a friend with cancer. Sarah Connor (@sacosw), shares a story about her neighbor who “came once a week, took away a basket of dirty clothes, brought them back washed, dried, ready to put away. She didn’t know me very well. Still makes me tingle.”

Give thoughtful gifts

From warm socks and soft blankets to body lotion and lip balm, there are many gifts you can bring a friend who is going through treatment. Beverly A. Zavaleta MD[2], author of Braving Chemo, writes:  “Each time someone sent me a gift I felt a connectedness to the giver and to the “outside world,” which was a welcome escape from the cancer world that I was living in… when I received a gift, I appreciated the time that that person took to remember me, to think of what I might need and to choose, assemble or make the gift.”

Breast cancer survivor, Karen Murray (@murraykaren) recommends practical gifts like “hand cream (skin very dry after chemo), gel for mouth ulcers (also common), some nice sweets/fruit.”

Male breast cancer survivor, Dennis Keim (@denniskeim) suggests “a jar of Aquaphor might be a nice gift. Especially if their skin is getting hammered by chemo.”

“Help the cancer patient pamper themselves,” proposes Lisa Valentine. “You know your friend or family member well enough–get them something they wouldn’t get themselves because they would think it’s extravagant–i.e. the expensive chocolate or a pedicure.” What may seem like an indulgence can also be extremely practical. “Taking me for gel nails protected my ever softening nails,” explains Ilene Kaminsky.

Although be mindful that not everyone appreciates the same things. 

“I wasn’t interested in toiletries, candles. Wine gums – they mask the taste of a nasty pre-chemo antiemetic,” says Syliva (@SylviaB_). “People often think buying flowers is naff. I adored it when people bought me flowers. A couple of people bought spectacular flowering plants.”  Breast cancer blogger, Sheri[3] received the fabulous gift of a monthly subscription to in-home flower deliveries during treatment.

Help with treatment decisions

If you have already been through cancer yourself, your friend may turn to you for treatment advice. You can guide them to helpful resources  and share your own experience, but ultimately the final decision is theirs alone. Sometimes you may not agree about treatment decisions. This can be hard for both of you. Try to accept this and support their decision. “I think not being critical with someone’s choices is very important. Support should not be in spite of circumstances,” says Ilene Kaminsky.

Offer compassion and kindness

Two-times breast cancer survivor and patient advocate Terri Coutee[4] believes the best gifts you can offer a friend is compassion and kindness. “Hold a hand if you are with a friend or loved one in person,” she advises. “You don’t even have to say anything. Perhaps your warm, human touch is enough. Tell them you have no idea how they are feeling at the moment but want to support them in any way you can. Be sensitive to the fact they may only need someone to listen, not advise.”

John Hanley (@ChemoCookery) considers “small practical actions and warm, soothing, short reassuring words are perfect.” Words like “I’m going nowhere and I’ll be here shoulder to shoulder when you need me. A little note/text/card “Here for you 24/7 anytime.”A HUG, an Embrace, a hand, eye contact.”

Sara Liyanage, author of Ticking Off Breast Cancer [5]  reminds us that “a cancer diagnosis turns your world upside down and overnight you can become scared, emotional, vulnerable and anxious. Having friends and family step up and show kindness is a lifeline which can carry you through from diagnosis to the end of treatment (and importantly, beyond).”

Treat your friend like you normally would

Researcher, Caroline Lloyd (@TheGriefGeek), cautions us not to “make it all about the cancer, they are still a person.”  Writer and metastatic breast cancer patient, Julia Barnickle (@JuliaBarnickle) agrees. “I prefer to keep conversation as normal as possible for my own sake – I don’t want cancer to take over my life.”

Stage 4 melanoma patient advocate, Kay Curtin (@kaycurtin1) suggests you talk to your friend “like you would any friend. We haven’t suddenly become aliens who require a different style of language,”  she points out.  Sherry Reynolds (@Cascadia), whose Mom is a 15-year metastatic breast cancer patient, talks about how her mother “really appreciated it when people talked to her about regular things vs always talking about her cancer or asking how she was doing. She was living with her cancer, it wasn’t who she is.”

Know when to back off

“What I didn’t want, which is equally important, was people trying to encourage me to go anywhere or do anything,” says Syliva (@SylviaB_).“ I spent a lot of time on my sofa and felt guilty saying no to people who wanted me to go out.”

Knowing when to be there for your friend, and when to give them space isn’t always easy.  but it’s an important balancing act as a good friend.  In Tips for Being A Great Cancer Friend, Steve Rubin,[6] points out that “sometimes, the overstimulation from nurses popping in, PT sessions, and all the tests/drug schedules can become so exhausting that you just want to be left alone. Other times, the loneliness kicks in and you could really use a friendly face.”

It may take time to find the right balance, so let your friend guide you.   Nicole McClean shares her experience with her friend: “I haven’t spoken to her a lot. I didn’t want to become that sort of pesky, well-intentioned friend who searched for every little thing that might show how she was feeling at any particular moment.  Because I know that her feelings would change from moment to moment and sometimes… sometimes it’s just too much to have someone repeatedly ask you… “how are you really feeling?” even when you know they mean well. At this point, I am letting her guide me into how much she needs me and where she wants me to be.”  

At the same time, Terri Coutee advises gentle persistence:  “Don’t give up if you offer help and they don’t respond. Revisit your offer to do something for them with gentle persistence. One day they may decide they need your help,”  she says.  Maureen Kenny recalls “a friend who texted me every time she was about to go shopping to see if I needed/wanted anything while she was out. I rarely did but I always really appreciated her asking.”

Make your support ongoing

Support is not just one and done.  In the shock and drama of a crisis, friends rally round, but once the shock has worn off many disappear. True friends stick around long after the initial days, weeks and months of a cancer diagnosis. Ilene asks that friends continue to“remember birthdays, cancerversaries, and remember me on holidays. A card means a lot even to just say hi.”

Final thoughts

Many studies have found that cancer survivors with strong emotional support tend to better adjust to the changes cancer brings to their lives, have a more positive outlook, and often report a better quality of life. Research has shown that people with cancer need support from friends. You can make a big difference in the life of someone with cancer. [7]

“I personally loved just knowing I was cared for, says lobular breast cancer campaigner, Claire Turner (@ClaireTTweets). “A number of friends didn’t contact me or come and see me and that hurt, so simply be there in whatever way means something,” she advises.

“The truth is basic,” says Nicole McClean, “nobody wants somebody they love to go through cancer. Especially if they’ve been through it themselves. You want people you love to be spared this type of hardship. But you can’t protect them from it. You can only help them through it. Be there for them in the ways that they need.”

Tailoring your help to what your friend needs and enjoys most is the best way to be a friend to them. As four-times cancer survivor Sarah Dow (@he4dgirl) points out “the answers will surely be as varied as we are, both in life generally, our experience of cancer, and our connection with our friend.”


[1] Nicole McClean. My Fabulous Boobies.

[2] Beverly A. Zavaleta MD, The Best Gifts For Chemotherapy Patients

[3] Life After Why

[4] Terri Coutee, DiepCJourney

[5] Sara Liyanage, “What To Do (And What Not To Do) For Someone With Breast Cancer”

[6] Steve Rubin, The (Other) C Word

[7] American Cancer Society, “How to Be a Friend to Someone With Cancer”

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