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Published on October 19, 2016

friends showing support

The Gift of Friendship During Breast Cancer Treatment

This is the first in a series on the Gift of Friendship during cancer treatment.

When a loved one receives a breast cancer diagnosis, it can be difficult to know how to help. Rev. Laurel Buwalda, Chaplain at Avera Cancer Institute shares insight about how to support a friend during cancer treatment.

“Offering friendship to someone going through cancer treatment is so important because we can’t do cancer alone,” says Buwalda. “My mother used to tell me that I didn’t need a lot of friends. But if I have a couple of good friends, then I’m rich. That’s especially true when going through something difficult like cancer treatment.”


The first step to being a good friend is to simply listen. “Listen to what’s on your friend’s heart. Always be sensitive to her wants and needs, which may change throughout her treatment and even day to day.”

Buwalda adds that it’s helpful to resist the urge to offer advice (unless asked for) or fill the silence. “You’ll never know what your friend wants to talk about until you give her the space to talk. If you fill the space with your own nervous chatter, you may miss the opportunity to hear what she wants to share. As a chaplain, people often ask me how I know what to say. The truth is, I don’t always know – I simply show up and listen well.”

Some days – especially throughout treatment – your friend may not have the energy or desire to talk. “A good friend is sensitive to that too. If that happens, simply reassure her that you’re there for her.”

In the age of social media, Buwalda says it’s also important to ask your friend whether or not she wants her story shared online before posting anything about her. One woman may prefer privacy, while another feels encouraged when you share positive comments about her on social media. “Every woman has her own story, and it’s hers to tell in whatever manner she feels the most comfortable with,” she says.


“We’re always looking for reasons to celebrate because cancer is tough – to say the least,” says Buwalda. “Take time to notice, acknowledge and be thankful for the special moments and good things in her life.”

First, find out what’s meaningful to her. Then, celebrate in a way that’s appropriate for her. You can celebrate anything from positive results and her final treatment to how amazing she looks in her new wig or scarf. Milestones such as a child’s wedding, an anniversary, birth or graduation in her family are great reasons to celebrate too.

“Celebration is tied very closely with hope,” adds Buwalda. “When we celebrate, it gives her a renewed sense of hope. Friends can play such a big role in offering that encouragement and hope.”


“There’s no greater gift that you can give a friend than to come alongside her and pray,” says Buwalda. If you pray for your friend, encourage her by letting her know how you’re praying for her. And if you’re both open to it, offer to pray for her out loud and in person. “There’s something about praying with a friend that takes your relationship to a deeper level,” she adds.

To discover fun gift ideas for a friend undergoing breast cancer treatment, stay tuned for part two of this series.

Have cancer-related questions or concerns? Call the Avera Cancer Institute Navigation Center at 888-422-1410 to talk with a cancer expert 24/7. It’s free for all Avera patients, along with their family members and friends.

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