PUBLISHED ON: 27 August 2013

A breast cancer diagnosis is difficult for anyone to take in. However it’s easy to forget about the impact it can have on close family and friends. This may include a partner mother sister child or an employer or work colleague to name but a few.

Calls to our Helpline and questions to our Ask the Nurse service often deal with queries from relatives and friends of someone with breast cancer. They genuinely want to help but need some help themselves with how to do this.

Partners will often ask for facts: ‘What’s the prognosis?’; ‘What does the pathology report really mean?’. Also on a practical level they want information about what to tell the children how to juggle work school and being there to support their partner. For the people who contact us the first step is a good understanding of what all the treatments mean and how they may make the person with breast cancer feel.

As treatment can be complex our nurses and trained staff with experience of breast cancer can help with understanding the medical terms used in clinic and why certain treatments are given. One of our publications Treating breast cancer is useful for getting to grips with all the options on offer and what their impact might be.

Most people vividly remember how they felt when they were first told they had breast cancer. But it can be difficult to share feelings of fear and uncertainty with someone they are close to. Some find it easier to share their worries with loved ones by encouraging them to read our booklet Breast cancer and you: diagnosis treatment and the future and then talking about their own feelings afterwards.

Partners may find it particularly useful to read In it together which is specifically aimed at the partners of people with breast cancer and features the experiences of others who have been in this difficult situation. If you’re finding it difficult to cope with your partner’s breast cancer diagnosis you can discuss how you’re feeling in confidence with our One-to-One Support service available over the phone which includes volunteers who have been in the same situation.

Friends and family members may also find themselves supporting younger people affected by a parent’s or grandparent’s breast cancer. We have resources that can help with this. Mummy’s Lump is a picture book aimed at the under 7s which helps to explain breast cancer in a format familiar to small children. We also produce a factsheet called Breast cancer and your child’s school – this is to help someone diagnosed with breast cancer to communicate with school about their diagnosis and treatment. This might be a task that falls to a friend or family member and is a great example of how you can you can practically support someone by taking on certain tasks and responsibilities.

Hearing about a relative having breast cancer can also make other family members concerned about their own health. I remember taking a call recently from the sister of someone recently diagnosed desperate to find out more about family history and genetics and her possible risk of getting breast cancer too. After talking with her about her situation I suggested she looked at our booklet Breast cancer in families which has information on genetic breast cancer and also signposts other helpful organisations.

There’s no right or wrong way to deal with all the emotions and issues that may come your way after someone you know is diagnosed with breast cancer. If you’re concerned how you can best support a family member or friend with breast cancer you don’t have to cope alone. Contact our Helpline on 0808 800 6000 to talk to one of our experienced team or email our Ask the Nurse service.