“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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, therapist in Pasadena, California
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