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Being a support for someone who has cancer is something that most of us will face at least once in our lives. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, three out of four households will experience a cancer diagnosis in their family at some point in their lives. Receiving cancer support is vital for the person going through a diagnosis. Sociological studies have proven that emotional support can affect immune system function, treatment outcomes, and even cancer mortality rates.
4 Ways to Provide the Best Cancer Support to Friends & Family
Dr. O. Carl Simonton was a world-renowned oncologist and author who pioneered the field of psychosocial oncology. He believed that “our emotions significantly influence health and recovery from disease (including cancer)” and concluded that “emotions are a strong driving force in the immune system and other healing systems.”
Being there for someone else who may need your support requires skill, but it is not the kind of skill that any of us learned in school! Providing real support takes balance, patience, and awareness on the part of the supporter. And, believe it or not, it can be one of the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences you may ever have.
1. Take care of yourself and your needs!
I put this first for a reason. After all, if you do not take care of yourself, how can you truly be there for someone else?
But what does it mean to take care of one’s self? In my opinion, it signifies practicing true self-care. Physically, this correlates with the basics: getting enough sleep, eating nourishing foods, and exercising daily. Emotionally, it means practicing gratitude and taking time out every day to find ways to relax and find joy. While you care for your loved one, try to “unplug” from the needs of others for at least half an hour each day. Go for a walk, write in a journal, do something creative, or just sit in nature. Even petting your cat or staring at a plant for five minutes is better than nothing!
Make it a point to observe your thoughts and feelings as you take time for yourself. Are you feeling guilty? Are unexplainable feelings of anger and resentment towards yourself or the other rising to the surface? Let whatever thoughts and emotions come and go. Mind-body expert and researcher Dr. Joe Dispenza says that emotions are “energy in motion.” If you consider your emotions in terms of energy, then allowing them to arise and then leave your system on their own can open up more room within you to be present for others.
Finally, self-care involves knowing your own boundaries when it comes to how you can help. If you feel that you are taking on too much, it’s okay to say “no.” A good way to take a step back is to offer another resource (support group, therapist, doctor, online reference such as TheTruthAboutCancer.com) where your loved one may be able to get the help they seek.
Best-selling author and self-care expert Cheryl Richardson says, “People start to heal the moment they feel heard.” For a cancer patient, simply feeling that someone is listening to them may be the factor that will turn on the physical mechanisms of healing.
The good news is that listening requires literally nothing on your part! No words of advice or sage wisdom are required. All you have to bring to the table is patience and a listening ear. Some good phrases to repeat so that the other knows that you are listening are: “I hear you,” “Thank you for sharing that with me,” or “Tell me more about that.”
Also, don’t be afraid of silence. Often individuals will fill pauses in conversation with chatter. A person facing a cancer diagnosis is going through one of the scariest experiences of their life. They may feel vulnerable and just need a moment to process what is going on before responding. Practice breathing through a silent spot in a conversation. A great reference for active listening is Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication (NVC) books and website.
3. Accept wherever the person is on their cancer journey.
Accepting another’s views about health and their chosen cancer protocols if they differ from your own may be the toughest thing for you to do. This is, especially so if you are aware of the power of evidence-based natural medicines. In fact, you may feel like you are not being supportive if you don’t educate them about the dangers of chemotherapy, for example, or the cancer healing power of curcumin.
I am not advocating that you don’t let your loved one know that there are alternative ways to view what is going on in their body. Indeed, this information may just save their life. I am suggesting, however, that being selective in what you say and when you say it can make all the difference as to whether that person receives the information… or rejects it.
An ideal time to offer an opinion is when the person asks for it outright. You can also say, simply, “I have a suggestion. Would you like to hear it?” This question puts the ball in their court. Briefly explaining what your suggestion is and then providing an outside resource, such as a link or a book reference that they can investigate on their own, is much more empowering for them than talking “at them.”
Finally, an intense lesson in acceptance may occur for you if the other simply does not want to hear about any kind of “alternatives” to conventional approaches. If this is the case, just be there for them as you can and let go of any expectations or judgments you may have about their course of action. Lead by example. Simply be present for them in love (and in prayer, if that is in alignment with your belief system). They will feel your unconditional support and this alone will help them in their healing.
4. Focus on the tangible. Be prepared for the intangible.
Sometimes the best way you can help a person, especially in the beginning, is in tangible ways. Do they need help with preparing meals? Doing laundry? Running an errand? Depending on how much time and energy you have to do these things, helping the other to get the “little things in life” done can relieve a lot of stress. It can also open up time for them to just “be” as well as take some time to decide what to do next. As you do these “tangible” things, the person may or may not open up to you about their fears, concerns, and confusions. Decide beforehand if you wish to be there for them in that way if the opportunity arises.
Most of all, remember that you are providing a great service by being part of a person’s support team when a cancer diagnosis occurs. For you, this journey can be draining both emotionally and physically. Be willing to honor what you can and cannot do. Especially if someone very close to you is dealing with cancer, be sure to take time for yourself and to reach out to others both online and in-person to get the support YOU need along the way.
Have you had to provide cancer support to a friend or family member? What helpful suggestions can you offer to others? Please share in the Comments section below.
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Three out of four households will experience a cancer diagnosis in their family at some point in their lives. Receiving cancer support is vital as studies show that emotional support can affect immune system function, treatment outcomes, and even cancer mortality rates.
Being there for someone else who may need your support requires skill, but it is not the kind of skill that any of us learned in school.
Here are 4 ways to provide the best cancer support to friends & family members:
- Remember to take care of yourself and your needs too. While you care for your loved one, try to “unplug” from the needs of others for at least half an hour each day.
- Listen. No words of advice or sage wisdom are required. All you have to bring to the table is patience and a listening ear.
- Accept wherever the person is on their cancer journey. Being selective in what you say and when you say it can make all the difference as to whether that person receives the information or rejects it.
- Sometimes the best way you can help a person, especially in the beginning, is in tangible ways such as preparing meals, doing laundry, or running an errand.
Be willing to honor what you can and cannot do, especially if someone very close to you is dealing with cancer. Take time for yourself and to reach out to others both online and in-person to get the support YOU need along the way.