"Cancer is a journey, but you walk the road alone. There are many pla..." /> "Cancer is a journey, but you walk the road alone. There are many pla..." />

5 Ways to Boost Your Support Network in Your Cancer Journey

People holding hands“Cancer is a journey, but you walk the road alone. There are many places to stop along the way and get nourishment—you just have to be willing to take it.” —Emily Hollenberg, cancer survivor

The experience of having cancer can be such an isolating one. For many people who are newly diagnosed or going through cancer treatment, finding adequate social support becomes more necessary than ever before. These relationships can gird you up and get you through; they can act as a shelter from the bomb that cancer has set off in your life.

We all have unique circumstances and situations when it comes to our social support network while dealing with cancer. Some individuals have a large support network made up of a wide array of friends and family; others have few of those relationships.

In either case, professionals—doctors, nurses, social workers, and mental health counselors—are an additional place that people with cancer can look to for support. They can help fill in the support gaps, providing support that you either can’t get or don’t get from people in your personal life.

Having support that is both emotional and practical in nature can make a huge difference in how you process the experience of being a cancer patient. Without support from others, it can be very difficult to manage the anxiety and physical and emotional stress of your treatments. Ultimately, a lack of support can get in the way of healing and recovery.

So, how do you find the support you will need and are seeking? Here are some tips for increasing your emotional support while battling cancer:

  1. Create a list of the people in your life you can count on. Some people you may be able to look to for practical support, such as assisting with chores or accompanying you to medical appointments. Others may be better equipped to offer emotional support in the form of a phone call or visit. It can be hard to ask for help, especially if you’ve always been independent or someone who has cared for others. However, it can be a healing experience to accept help from others; it can increase your sense of safety and support during a difficult time.
  2. Reach out to people by phone or email and create a schedule of care. Caring Bridge and PostHope are websites designed to connect people who want to help with a friend or family member in need and are an excellent resource for someone preparing to go through cancer treatment.
  3. You may find that even though you have a wonderful support system of friends and family, they have a hard time understanding the emotional turbulence that cancer has created in your life. This is normal; people going through cancer sometimes feel alone in their experience even if surrounded by people who care. Joining online communities for people with cancer can be helpful in finding peer support, which can be accessed any time, day or night. You might consider asking your cancer center social worker or doctor for some suggestions on websites that people have mentioned were helpful in getting support.
  4. Social groups and support groups for people with cancer can also be of great benefit. Larger cities may have a wellness or cancer support community, and sometimes even local hospitals offer some kind of cancer support program. It might be a gentle exercise class such as yoga specifically designed for people with cancer, or it could be a weekly group where you are able to obtain and offer support to people who understand what you are going through. It need not even be a group of people with your exact diagnosis; just sharing with people who have been through the trauma of receiving a cancer diagnosis and the challenge of accepting treatment can be helpful. We all need to find our “tribe,” and joining a cancer support group is one way to do that.
  5. Sometimes you may need more support than the people in your life can give. If this is the case, you are in good company. Even people with the strongest of support systems can greatly benefit from working with a mental health professional. One time in particular where the help of a therapist may be indicated is the post-treatment phase of cancer, otherwise known as the survivorship phase. It is often after treatment has ended that your social support network starts to recede as you are expected to get back to “normal.” Having a professional therapist to discuss your cancer experience with can help you process your feelings about what you’ve been through and help you transition into your “new normal.” Ask your doctor for a referral or search for a therapist in your area who is well-versed in working with cancer patients and survivors.

Remember, even though each of us with cancer must ultimately face it on our own, we don’t have to do it alone. Reach out for help when you need it.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Stacey Fuller, LMFT, Cancer Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Jonas

    October 8th, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    Am I the only one ho doesn’t think that all of this should necessarily be up to me? I mean, if I am the one who is facing down cancer, shouldn’t other people be setting up this metwork of support? That just feels like it would be a whole lot on my table if I am having to delegate this and that when I am fighting this illness. I think that in times of need such as this it is time for others to step up to the plate and to acknowledge that you need help. You might not want to let them in to do things for you but I think that during times like this this is the time you do need to give up a little of that control and let other people do some of the heavy lifiting for you. I just don’t think that it should be up to you to have to arrange all of it.

  • jenni

    October 8th, 2014 at 3:31 PM

    Ask your doctors if they can recommend a support groupt hat is geared toward your type of can cer or the things that you are most interested in. Often your family members might not be the ebst source of comfort to you, you may justw ant to share your fears and feelings with others who have been through the same exacvt things and know what you are feeling. There are all sorts of groups available to cancer survivors, I am sure that there is one that is exactly what you are looking for for support.

  • Stacey Fuller, LMFT

    October 8th, 2014 at 5:23 PM

    Thanks for your comment, Jonas. You are right, it is sad that it sometimes falls to the person going through cancer to become an advocate for themselves. Some cancer centers and hospitals do a great job of setting people up with supportive services and others, not so much. The hospital I received my cancer treatment at had very little in the way of support for people going through cancer. Other cancer centers and hospitals (especially the ones that focus exclusively on cancer care) offer a tremendous amount of supportive services to the patients. It really can run the gamut.

    Ideally, all people with cancer would have access to incredible support from family and friends. Unfortunately for some, family and friends don’t always step up or support in a way that the patient needs. Some people find themselves really in need and the burden, right or wrong, falls on them.

    I see this most acutely in working with people in the post-treatment/survivorship phase of cancer. Friends and family see the entire treatment ordeal as being over but for the person who has just been through the incredible trauma of cancer, the need for support may be stronger than ever. It’s times like these that we really do need to do what is right for us and that includes reaching out for support.

    I have written a blog post on my website geared towards those who want to support someone with cancer. You can read that here: staceyfullertherapy.com/6-ways-to-support-someone-with-cancer/ It addresses many of the issues that you bring up in your comment. Thank you for your perspective. It brings a lot of truth and will hopefully help some people to step up for the person in their life with cancer.

  • Stacey Fuller, LMFT

    October 8th, 2014 at 5:35 PM

    Yes, Jenni – you are really right about finding a support group. Friends and family may care deeply but they often don’t know how to help or have difficulty understanding what the person going through cancer is experiencing. In my case, although I had very supportive friends and family, I still felt very alone in my cancer experience. Until I entered some support groups, I did not know anyone in my age group who had experienced cancer.

    Finding people who understood my experience helped me not to feel so alone. I found it an integral part of my emotional healing both during treatment and afterward. It is also the reason that I specialize in offering supportive therapy to people in all phases of the cancer experience. I see the need and I know what having that kind of support can mean to someone facing such a difficult time. Thanks for your comment.

  • Katie Cashin Therapy

    October 9th, 2014 at 4:19 AM

    Thanks for sharing these suggestions! Along with creating a list of one’s support network I would add a list of manageable to-do’s. I think one of the greatest stresses when dealing with diagnosis and treatment is having people who want to help but don’t have practical things they can do so they just kind of “worry over” the person. When working with people starting treatment I often recommend they make this list so that when people ask “is there anything I can do?” they have an answer and so that those who are deeply concerned and worrying have something to do that will keep them busy and give the patient a little breathing room.

  • Jan

    October 9th, 2014 at 10:52 AM

    This would be so hard for me because I am that person who, when hurting, I have a far greater tendency to shut others out instead of letting them in. I know that I need the help, I even want it, but asking and then letting that guard down… so difficult to try to do.

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