Think Beyond Cancer

For someone living with cancer, the support of family and friends is critical in their journey. Yet, a diagnosis of cancer often catches everyone by surprise, and shifts the roles we are accustomed to playing. Those of us that have not personally struggled with cancer, though well meaning, are unable to understand completely what our loved one is going through; emotionally and physically.

When times get tough for friends, family, and co-workers, you naturally want to help in any way you can.

Usually all you need to do is provide a sympathetic ear or a shoulder to cry on. Or perhaps a night on the town or a good joke is what it takes. In tougher situations, you might need to decide whether to make a loan or to let someone move into your guest room a while.

That about covers most cases. But forget about "most cases" when it comes to learning that someone you know has cancer.

When this happens, it can seem impossible to know what to say or do, and at the same time it can seem impossible not to say or do something.

The fear, of course, is that you will end up saying or doing the wrong thing at the worst possible time. Afraid of hurting or offending someone at such a sensitive moment, it's easy to feel paralyzed. You simply don't know how to respond.

Keep relationships normal, balanced

One of the most important things you can do is to treat the person with cancer just as you would normally.

Offer encouragement but not blind optimism, since pie-in-the-sky statements like "Oh, don't worry, you'll be just fine" could make people feel you aren't taking their illness seriously, that you're dismissing their fears, concerns, anger, or sadness.

And don't forget the old adage: "Silence is golden." It's OK to listen without always feeling that you have to respond, because often, people just need time to be heard.

The patient sometimes doesn't want to express what he feels in order to don't afraid his close relatives. More over, it's often the same thing for the family, who hide its emotions.

It's important to talk to each others, to share your fears and anxiety, but also your joy. However, some close relatives absolutely want to help and comfort the patient, and forget to listen to him about his feelings and will. You have to find the balance between listening and helping.

Some advices can help you to communicate with the patient:

  • Avoid changing your behaviour towards the sick person, trying to be as usual and spontaneous.
  • Let him talk without break him off, listen to him attentively in order that he can express all his emotions. Avoid too many personal judgements and advices. Just being present and listening is beneficial and comforting for the patient
  • Accept the patient sickness and don't be afraid to show your fears
  • Make yourself an intermediary between the healthcare team and the patient in case of difficult relations.
  • Your gesture and behaviour is also very important.

As you know the patient well, you have to help to pick out pain and unusual signs or symptoms.

Along with providing emotional support, you can help the sick person in his daily life, for the marketing and housework for example, but also for the administrative processes related to the disease.

Sometimes the patient may ask you to explain in a simpler way what the doctor said, and to help him take decisions. In some cases it's possible for you to attend the consultation between the sick person and the oncologist, and it can help to the understanding of all the information given. You can be important intermediary between the patient and the healthcare team.

Your ultimate goal should be to keep your relationship as balanced as possible. Make sure all your conversations don't become focused on the person's cancer. That's not good for either one of you.

Ask Think Beyond Cancer