Breast Cancer: Social Issues

Some women are concerned about how a diagnosis of breast cancer will affect their relationships with family and friends. To help address these concerns, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offers a range of psychosocial services for patients with breast cancer and their loved ones.

This section addresses the possible effects of a breast cancer diagnosis and its subsequent treatment on social relationships with family and friends. Also discussed are your rights in the workplace, health insurance, and financial concerns.

Friends & Family

Your friends, family, and co-workers naturally will be concerned about you as you progress through your treatment. Many will want to help in any way they can. Here are a few tips for managing these relationships at such a stressful time.

  • Ask one person to be your primary caregiver and advocate. This person is often a spouse, but it can also be a sibling, parent, or friend. It can be very helpful to have one person who goes with you to appointments, keeps track of treatments, and can talk to doctors on your behalf, if you so choose. Discuss this role with the person and find out what makes both of you comfortable. How much input do you want? How much is the other person comfortable with?
  • The people who care about you will want to know how you are doing. But don't feel obligated to answer the phone every time it rings. Take care of yourself. If you are not up to talking on the phone or having visitors, appoint one family member as the “chief information officer.” Consider making use of e-mail or a blog. Remember, it's up to you to decide how much you want people to know about your medical condition.
  • Accept help from people. Allow people to assist with tasks such as cooking meals, mowing the lawn, shopping, and cleaning your home. It might help you both feel better.

Family Disruption

Cancer often disrupts normal family relationships and responsibilities. Traditional roles may be reversed or additional roles taken on, causing stress for everyone. Recognize that returning to old roles and routines may take time. Open communication and a sense of humor can help.

Your Rights at Work

While statistics show that most cancer survivors are able to return to work, some people report feeling they have been unfairly passed over for promotion, or have experienced negative attitudes or undue criticism in the workplace. For some, physical, psychological, and occupational vulnerability persists long after treatment. It is important to understand the laws that protect you — such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

If you feel you have been discriminated against, you can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for information on what steps you can take. You can also contact the American Cancer Society or the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship for more information.