Tips for brother concerned about sister?

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Question from Worried Brother: My sister was just diagnosed with breast cancer this week. She is nervous, worried, and upset about dealing with the future (treatment, etc). As her brother, I am not sure what I should do or say to make her feel more secure and optimistic. What would you recommend?
Answers - Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W. The way you describe your sister's feelings is entirely normal and just what we would expect from someone newly diagnosed with this illness. No one can really answer your question as to what you can do to help her outside of being with her to support her—that part you already know. But how to help her in more detail you can only know by asking her. What would help her may be different than helping another woman. So you need to ask her what would help her...going to the doctor with her, etc. It is important to listen to her answers, take her seriously, give her room to talk, let her tell you her feelings, etc.

What is not helpful is when friends and relatives tell women with breast cancer that they don't have anything to worry about. It's not helpful to tell them they should not be feeling that way, that things are going to be okay. What is helpful is to allow them to talk, share their feelings, be open and honest, and to let them know that you heard what they had to say. The way to help is to assure them that you will be there to help them in any way that they need. But they need to tell you what they need and you need to listen as carefully as possible. It sounds like your sister is lucky to have a brother like you.
Marisa Weiss, M.D. It is hard for a lot of people to accept help from others because it can feel like they are giving up control or independence in their lives, so it may take time for your sister to accept your thoughtful offers of help. When you ask her what she might find helpful, it may be useful to have prepared a list of suggestions that you throw out there just in case one or two or three of them would appeal to her. For example, an offer to pick up food, go to the dry cleaners, clean the kitchen, pick up the children, find a good book or read to her, answer the phone for a period of time so she can take a nap, a ride to a doctor, or an offer to pick up film or medical records and deliver them to another doctor. These are things that you can offer to do that she may not even have thought of.

The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Dealing With Breast Cancer Fears featured Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about aspects of breast cancer that cause concern.

Editor's Note: This conference took place in June 2002.

The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.

A production of LiveWorld, Inc.
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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