Online graduate degree programs can teach you about the science behind breast cancer, but when it comes to supporting a loved one, you just need to follow your heart.

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When someone you love is diagnosed with breast cancer, it’s only natural that your first instinct is to seek ways to help. But how? Everyone who is diagnosed is unique—as a patient and as a person—and there is no universal regimen of support that applies to every individual. The best approach is simply to be open and accommodating when it comes to your friend’s wishes, needs, and personality. To help get you started, here is a list of support suggestions, inspired by the friends and loved ones of breast cancer patients and survivors.*

  • Be a note taker. Understanding everything that is said during the initial doctors’ appointments can be confusing and overwhelming. Fortunately, you don’t need a master’s degree in nursing to take notes, so volunteer to accompany your friend to appointments and document what’s being discussed.
  • Don’t just take notes—send them. Send a funny card or an uplifting letter as a reminder that you are thinking about your friend. An encouraging message can go a long way.
  • Set up a website or Facebook page to help document the journey. Of course, you’ll want your friend’s buy-in before starting on this project; however, many find strength in sharing their stories. Even if you’re not too tech savvy, there are a number of online learning tools available to guide you.
  • Go grocery shopping. Home-cooked meals are not always as welcome as you might think. A better idea would be to go grocery shopping for your friend; pick up favorite comfort foods, or stock up the kitchen for the whole family. (Bonus: if your friend has children, take them with you for a bit of quiet time at home for your friend.)
  • Share some positive research. A number of reputable organizations and charities employ public health researchers (often holding a PhD in Public Health) who share their findings in the form of an article. Many of these articles convey a positive outlook on a particular aspect of breast cancer and can be a nice source of hope.
  • Ink it up. Whether you get tattooed together or go at it alone, a pink ribbon tattoo goes great with everything. Not comfortable with permanent body modification? Show your support with a series of themed temporary tattoos, clothing, or accessories.
  • Rock it out. Make a CD or playlist of some inspirational songs for your friend. It could serve as a source of relaxation, distraction, or motivation.
  • Plant a garden. Fighting breast cancer can really take its toll. Adding a garden to your friend’s view can be soothing and uplifting.
  • Plan a night in. If your friend is confined to bed or just in need of some extra rest, you can still make the night enjoyable. If your friend is up for company, consider having a relaxing movie night.
  • Celebrate the milestones. Keep a calendar of special dates and celebrate your friend’s hard work. Milestones like the end of chemotherapy or radiation, or the anniversary of a surgery, can be a great time to plan a special gathering (with permission, of course) or to simply express how proud you are of your friend’s progress.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so as you consider these recommendations, it's important to remember that each person's experience with cancer is unique—and so is the way they handle it. You may not share the same ideas about how you can be supportive, but that’s where one of the most appreciated and welcomed signs of support can come into play—listening. Being a great listener during the journey is the best thing a friend can do.

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*The tips in this article were inspired by two sources:

Susan G. Komen, “Becoming a More Effective Co-Survivor: Ideas From People Who Have Been There,” on the Internet at http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/BecomingEffectiveCoSurvivor.html.

Fox News, “22 Ways to Help a Friend With Breast Cancer,” on the Internet at www.foxnews.com/health/2013/10/12/22-ways-to-help-friend-with-breast-cancer.

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