Speak Up: Communicating Clearly About What You Need Helps Relationships

Speak Up: Communicating Clearly About What You Need Helps Relationships

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, I’m sure you’ve noticed that it can affect your relationships. I’m not just talking about romantic relationships, but familial and friend relationships as well. The main thing I’ve noted while helping women through treatment and survivorship is the old saying “Communication is key.” I know that phrase may sound old and tired, but it is true, especially during hard times, as I’ve learned from my patients as a nurse.

Family and friends may act different around you after they hear of your diagnosis or they may just act like nothing has happened. Rest assured that they are not abandoning you or ignoring you. They just don’t know what to do or what to say. Everyone has different ways of coping and they are probably afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing.

You may be wondering why they need “cope” when you are the one facing breast cancer. I’ve learned over the years that cancer doesn’t just affect the person, it affects the whole family and support system. That might not sound fair, but trust me, you need your family, friends and all those who can help. Challenges seem a little more manageable when you have a team rooting for you. This is where you come in. You need to let them know what you are and aren’t comfortable talking about or doing. Let them know what works best for you. 


Another relationship I’d like to address is the one the patient has with her doctors, nurses and whole healthcare team. This is an instance where communication is vitally important. Let them know what your goals are and how you can work together to reach those goals. They may not know that you are a world-class guitarist and the potential side effect of the chemotherapy they have suggested may hurt your ability to play. They may not be aware that you teach dance on Wednesday night, so treatment on Tuesday makes you unable to attend. Talk to your healthcare team and make sure they know your needs, wants and goals. 


Breast cancer is hard. Treatment is tough. Somewhere along the way, you will need help.  Speak up and let your support system take on different tasks to help you along the way. This will not only aid you through some rough days, but also help your friends and family. This, in turn, will help make sure your relationships stay strong and last.    

Speak Up: Communicating Clearly About What You Need Helps Relationships

Barbara J. Herring RN, BSN, OCN, ONN-CG, CBCN

Barbara Herring is the Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator at the University of Mississippi Medical Center Cancer Institute.

Mississippi's Young Breast Cancer Survivor Network

Young women with breast cancer face unique issues. And in the South, there are more young women overall facing breast cancer. In Mississippi, young African-American women are significantly more likely to suffer from breast cancer.

That is why SurvivMISS is here. Part of the Gulf States Young Breast Cancer Survivor Network, SurviveMISS's mission is to help improve the quality of life for young breast cancer survivors, as well as their family and friends, by providing continuing resources and support.

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