When a friend has a mastectomy

Hello friends,

Well, I’m not sure what’s going on in the world, but too many people in my life these past few months have been diagnosed with cancer; have received the great news that they have moved into cancer survivorship; or who are no longer fighting the battle.

For some, this is a very private moment.

For others, like yours truly, it’s a very public journey.

For my friend Kathleen, my sisters and I only found out, by accident, that she had already passed on from this world.

While the diagnosis is difficult for the patient and for the family, it can also be a very isolating and confusing time for friends.

This post is for friends. 

I hope you read it. I hope you do something awesome for your friend.

And, if YOU are the warrior reading this, I hope you send it to people who are struggling to find ways to help you. 

Before I share with you a list of things that can help, please take this part to heart: Help is only help if you are actually being helpful.

Let me write that again.

Help is only help if you are actually being helpful. 

Too often, we insist that people want or need things that WE want or need, but that they don’t actually want or need. In fact, sometimes our helping because really problematic. It is unbelievably important that you know the difference. It’s important to know when to push and insist that “you aren’t too good to fold some underwear” (thanks to my friend Cathy who actually DID come over and fold my underwear) and when to realize that your warrior is giving you some subtle hints.

Here’s an example of being problematic: Like when you know that your warrior doesn’t like kale but you insist on bringing over kale salads each night because you heard that it’s good for her, so you bring massive amounts of kale salad over. Now, your warrior’s fridge is filled with friggin’ kale and she has nowhere to put the downright amazing lasagna that her other friend brought (note: I actually DO love kale salad, I’m writing that for a friend).

Got it? Crystal clear?

Okay, then, here are ways you can help (all the while being mindful about the purpose of helpfulness):

  • Schedule. Be that person who puts together the Lotsa Helping Hands Care community. Once you set it up, you can give this link to others so they can just insert themselves into the schedule. Your pal might be shy about wanting the network to do so much, so be sure to ask about all the little things to like watering plants or washing dishes or walking the dog or buying cat litter.
  • Make meals. (see above) Make meals that do not need any preparation and label it carefully. And, if you know that this person has a large network of help, please only make meals for that one night. Trust me. As delicious as every single meal was, people very generously brought over 3 nights worth of food but someone else, the next night, brought 3 nights worth of food, etc. etc. etc. If the warrior has children, make sure that you considered all allergies, food preferences, and even a little treat (if that’s what your warrior allows). Send things in dishes that s/he can keep. The last thing s/he is thinking about is which dish belongs to the owner. If your warrior does not have much help, then ignore everything you just read and COOK AWAY!
  • Clothing. Urgh, mastectomy. Splurge on your friend and buy her a few button down top pajamas — ones that she’ll actually like. It’ll be weeks before your warrior can lift her arms, so a button down is her best friend! She’ll have to wear a compression bra for a few weeks, but after that, she might want a nice comfy bra. I get absolutely no kickbacks, but Coobie Bras rock. I love them and have them in just about every color. They are great 5 years after mastectomies, too! And, I’m about to tell you, don’t buy everything in pink ….
  • Limit the pink. I know. I know. You really want to buy her that pink blanket and pink hoodie and pink socks and pink ribbon shirt and pink ….. everything. She’ll get plenty. And, honestly, after a while, she’ll hate everything pink. It’ll remind her of cancer. So, if you must, go ahead. But, know that she probably doesn’t want a Pepto Bismal wardrobe. That said, I love my pink “cancer sucks” socks that my friend Amy bought. I still wear them!
  • No books. I mean, unless she loves books. With so much medication, exhaustion, and then random blurry vision, I didn’t read for months. I did, however, watch a ton of Netflix. But, I dunno, if your warrior loves reading, then maybe. I just couldn’t even bring myself to read anything. And, I definitely didn’t want to read anything about cancer. Everyone’s different, but, fair warning.
  • Be willing to get her some Starbucks. Sometimes, the best errands are ones that have nothing to do with cancer. Did your warrior get a Starbucks or Peets or Dunkiess coffee on the way to work every day? Now, is she holed up at home with drains and a contraption that squishes her implants? Well, by golly, text and ask if she wants you to drop off (and maybe stay or not stay) her favorite drink pre-mastectomy. (I’d love a vanilla ice chai latte, thanks).
  • The Pre-Surgery Care Package. I think I wrote about this before, but there are just some little things you can give her a day before surgery. Chapstick, some flushable wet wipes (imagine having your chest all messed up and then having to reach “back there” with some scratchy toilet paper), minty gum, a water bottle (careful with all the pink, remember!), straws (she’ll hate lifting cups up to her mouth for at least two weeks).
  • Fruit. Oh, the number of fruit deliveries I got! YES! It was the best! My dear friend Barbara sent (and still sends!) us fruit each month. It seriously was the only fruit I ate for the first six months! It made me happy!
  • Cleaning. I didn’t want a cleaning crew to come in, so I was thankful that my friend Elma and my family came over and cleaned. Vacuuming is a no-no with the chest, and laundry was impossible with the 3lb lifting limit. So, someone to clean up was a huge gift!
  • Gift cards for treats when she’s feeling better. My friend Catherine sent a gift card to my favorite ice cream store (she lives in Ohio, I’m in MA). It took me about 4 months to get there, but I had that gift card in my bag and celebrated the day I got to go and use it! So, little lovely treats would be awesome!
  • Baked goods from afar. The Dreizen sisters sent my favorite brownies just nights before my surgery. I may or may not have eaten them for breakfast the day after my surgery…
  • Cards. Letters. Love. I still have the big box of cards and letters and sweet photo books that my friends from around the country sent. I was so touched to receive this while I was recovering, and I’ll keep them with me always!
  • Your prayers, intentions, wishes, and thoughts. It’s not underestimated, friends. Whatever helps. Whatever brings you comfort and allows you to be the best supporter possible is what your warrior needs.

That’ll get your warrior through the first few weeks!

Wishing all of my newly diagnosed warriors, my forever celebrating survivors, and the blessings of all of our cancer angels much love and comfort during these times.

Peace and health,




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1 Response to When a friend has a mastectomy

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