Embrace Social Support
“When you’re drowning, you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me’ – you just scream.”
Social support: A network of family, friends, neighbors, and community members that is available in times of need to give psychological, physical, and financial help.
Why it’s important
This study says: Research suggests that social support has an impact on physical health, well-being and adjustment to cancer of cancer patients.
In addition, evidence reveals that social support is beneficial for cancer patients and there is positive relationship between emotional support from family members and the level of physical and psychological adjustment to cancer. Furthermore, research into the relationship between the social support given during diagnosis stage and longer lifespan shows a causal relationship between social support and psychological adjustment.
In a study which examined which supports (depending on the person giving the support) cancer patients found useful, it was found that cancer patients believed that the emotional support given by the people they felt close was really significant. The patients in that study regarded the reassurance and emotional support given by nurses as important while they considered the informational support given by doctors as useful.
This study says: Every disease, and cancer in particular, constitutes a considerable psychological burden and a source of crisis. Professional care, friendly atmosphere and full access to information connected with the health problem may contribute to the reduction of undesired stimuli.
Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds
Kelly Turner, PhD, a researcher who specializes in integrative oncology, studied one hundred cancer survivors and analysed over one thousand cases of people who experienced a “radical remission” from “incurable” cancer. She found that these people did not sit around waiting for a miracle, but made significant changes in their lives. Dr Kelley found nine healing factors common among all of the cases she studied. These nine key factors are:
- Radically changing your diet
- Taking control of your health
- Following your intuition
- Using herbs and supplements
- Releasing suppressed emotions
- Increasing positive emotions
- Embracing social support
- Deepening your spiritual connection
- Having strong reasons for living
See more at www.RadicalRemission.com.
People Helping People
Source: The website of the National Cancer Institute (http://www.cancer.gov)
Even though your needs are greater when you have cancer, it can be hard to ask for help to meet those needs. To get the help you need, think about turning to:
- family and friends
- others who also have cancer
- people you meet in support groups
- people from your spiritual or religious community
- health care providers
No one needs to face cancer alone. When people with cancer seek and receive help from others, they often find it easier to cope.
People feel good when they help others. However, your friends may not know what to say or how to act when they’re with you. Some people may even avoid you. But they may feel more at ease when you ask them something specific, like to cook a meal or pick up your children after school.
Family and Friends
Family and friends can support you in many ways. But, they may wait for you to give them hints or ideas about what to do. Someone who is not sure if you want company may call “just to see how things are going.” When someone says, “Let me know if there is anything I can do,” be honest. For example, tell this person if you need help with an errand or a ride to the doctor’s office.
Family members and friends can also:
- keep you company, give you a hug, or hold your hand
- listen as you talk about your hopes and fears
- help with rides, meals, errands, or household chores
- go with you to doctor’s visits or treatment sessions
- tell other friends and family members ways they can help
Other People Who Have Cancer
Even though your family and friends help, you may also want to meet people who have cancer now or have had it in the past. Often, you can talk with them about things you can’t discuss with others. People with cancer understand how you feel and can:
- talk with you about what to expect
- tell you how they cope with cancer and live a normal life
- help you learn ways to enjoy each day
- give you hope for the future
Let your doctor or nurse know that you want to meet other people with cancer. You can also meet other people with cancer in the hospital, at your doctor’s office, or through a cancer support group.
Cancer support groups are meetings for people with cancer and those touched by cancer. They can be in person, by phone, or on the Internet. These groups allow you and your loved ones to talk with others facing the same problems. Some support groups have a lecture as well as time to talk. Almost all groups have a leader who runs the meeting. The leader can be someone with cancer or a counselor or social worker.
Support groups may not be for everyone. Some people choose to find support in other ways. But many people find them very helpful. People in the groups often:
- talk about what it’s like to have cancer
- help each other feel better, more hopeful, and not so alone
- learn about what’s new in cancer treatment
- share tips about ways to cope with cancer
Types of Support Groups
- Some groups focus on all kinds of cancer. Others talk about just one kind, such as a group for women with breast cancer .
- Some groups talk about all aspects of cancer.
- Online support groups are “meetings” that take place by computer. People meet through chat rooms, listservs, or moderated discussion groups and talk with each other over e-mail.
Where to Find a Support Group
Many hospitals, cancer centers, community groups, and schools offer cancer support groups. Here are some ways to find groups near you:
- Call your local hospital and ask about its cancer support programs.
- Ask your social worker to suggest groups.
- Do an online search for groups.
- Look in the health section of your local newspaper for a listing of cancer support groups.
Many people with cancer look more deeply for meaning in in their lives. Spirituality means the way you look at the world and make sense of your place in it. Spirituality can include faith or religion, beliefs, values, and “reasons for being.”
Cancer can affect people’s spirituality. Some people find that cancer brings a new or deeper meaning to their faith. Others feel that their faith has let them down. For example, you may:
- struggle to understand why you have cancer
- wonder about life’s purpose and how cancer fits in the “fabric of life”
- question your relationship with God
People in Health Care
Most cancer patients have a treatment team of health providers who work together to help them. This team may include doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, dietitians, and other people in health care.
Make sure to let your doctor know how you’re feeling. Tell him or her when you feel sick, are depressed, or in pain. When doctors know how you feel, they can:
- figure out if you are getting better or worse
- decide if you need other drugs or treatments
- help you get the extra support you need
Ask your doctor how often he or she will see you, when you will have tests, and how long before you know if the treatment is working.
Most likely, you will see nurses more often than other people on your treatment team. If you’re in the hospital, they will check in on you many times a day. If you are at home, visiting nurses may come to your house and help with your treatment and care. Nurses also work in clinics and doctor offices.
You can talk with nurses about your day-to-day concerns. They can tell you what to expect, such as if a certain drug is likely to make you feel sick. You can also talk to them about what worries you. They can offer hope, support, and suggest ways to talk with family and friends about your feelings.
Pharmacists not only fill prescriptions but also can teach you about the drugs you are taking. They can help you by:
- talking with you about how your drugs work
- telling you how often to take your drugs
- teaching you about side effects and how to deal with them
- warning you about the danger of mixing drugs together
- letting you know about foods you shouldn’t eat or things you shouldn’t do, like being in the sun for too long
People with cancer often have trouble eating or digesting food. Eating problems can be a side effect from cancer drugs or treatments. They can also happen when people are so upset that they lose their appetite and don’t feel like eating.
Dietitians can help by teaching you about foods that are healthy, taste good, and are easy to eat. They can also suggest ways to make eating easier, such as using plastic forks or spoons so food doesn’t taste like metal when you’re having chemo. Ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to a dietitian who knows about the special needs of cancer patients.
Social workers assist patients and families with meeting their daily needs such as:
- talking about your cancer with your family and other loved ones
- dealing with your feelings such as depression, sadness, or grief
- problem-solving and coping with stress
- finding support groups near where you live
- dealing with money matters, like paying the bills
- talking about your cancer or other work issues with your boss
- filling out paperwork, such as advance directives or living wills
- learning about health insurance, such as what your policy covers and what it does not
- finding rides to the hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office
- setting up visits from home health nurses
Most people are very upset when they face a serious illness such as cancer. Psychologists can help by talking with you and your family about your worries. They can not only help you figure out what upsets you but also teach you ways to cope with these feelings and concerns.
Sometimes people with cancer are depressed or have other psychiatric (mental health) disorders. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe drugs for these disorders. They can also talk with you about your feelings and help you find the mental health services you need.
Licensed Counselors and Other Mental Health Professionals
Licensed counselors, pastoral care professionals, spiritual leaders, nurse practitioners, and other mental health professionals also help people deal with their feelings, worries, and concerns. For instance, they can:
- help you talk about feelings such as stress, depression, or grief
- lead support groups and therapy sessions
- act as a “go-between,” such as with your child’s school or your boss at work
- refer you to other health providers and services near where you live
People in the Hospital
Many hospitals have people on staff to help make your stay a little easier.
Patient advocates can help when you have a problem or concern that you don’t feel you can discuss with your doctor, nurse, or social worker. They can act as a bridge between you and your health care team.
Volunteers often visit with patients in the hospital and offer comfort and support. They may also bring books, puzzles, or other things to do. Many volunteers have had cancer themselves. Let a hospital staff member know if you want to meet with a volunteer.
Caregivers are the people who help with your daily tasks such as bathing, getting dressed, or eating. Caregivers are often family members or close friends. Just like you, your caregivers need help and support. Ways to help your caregiver include:
- building a team
- keeping your caregivers informed
- finding extra help
- doing what you can to help your caregiver
- keeping your sense of humor
Build a Team
Build a team of caregivers so that you don’t have to depend on just one person. With a team, people can take turns with tasks such as:
- washing your hair or giving you a backrub
- going food shopping or cooking a meal for you
- driving you to the doctor’s office
- doing errands like going to the bank or post office
- cleaning the kitchen or mowing your lawn
- picking up your children after school
Keep Your Caregivers Informed
Make sure your caregivers know about your treatment and care. Ask your doctor or nurse to talk with the person who helps you the most. Suggest they talk about your cancer and its treatment and also what to do in case of an emergency.
You can help by:
- Making a list of important phone numbers. This list should have the phone numbers of your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, family members, neighbors, friends, and spiritual leaders. Keep copies of this list next to each phone in your house.
- Letting your caregivers know about the drugs you take. Make a list of all your drugs. Include the name of each drug, as well as how much of this drug you take and how often you need to take it. Be sure to also let your caregivers know about side effects to watch for and if you have any drug allergies. Also make sure that you keep your list up-to-date.
- Telling your caregivers about important paperwork. Let your caregivers know where you keep a copy of your insurance policies, social security papers, living will or advance directive, and power of attorney form. (For more information about advance directives, living wills, and power of attorney see “Living Each Day“.)
Respite Care programs arrange for someone else to stay with you while your caregivers take time off. To learn more about respite care, call your local hospital, home care agency, or hospice program.
Home Care programs arrange for you to receive skilled nursing care or help with personal tasks such as bathing or dressing in your own home. Your doctor needs to order these services. Talk with your doctor or nurse if you want to learn more.
Hospice can be a great source of comfort and support to people who are dying. It can help with medical care and be a way for people who are dying and their families to talk about their feelings. In some towns, hospice can also help with respite care. Let your doctor know if you want to learn more about a hospice near you.
Take Care of Your Caregivers
Cancer and its treatment are hard on everyone, even the people who take care of you. Sometimes caregivers become run down and get sick from the stress. Encourage your caregivers to take time off so they can do errands, enjoy hobbies, or have a rest.
Your caregivers might want to join a support group and meet others who are also caring for people with cancer.
Keep Your Sense of Humor
If you like to joke with your friends and family, don’t stop now. It’s okay to laugh at things that make you upset. For many people, humor is a way to gain a sense of control.
And remember to say “thank you.” Let your caregivers know that you value their help, support, and love.
Summing Up: People Helping People
People who have cancer often find that their needs change because of their cancer. The tasks of daily life become harder to manage. Feelings can be intense. And spiritual questions loom larger than ever before.
People you can turn to for help include:
- Family and friends. Most people are happy to find out that something they have to offer–a meal, a ride to the doctor, a phone call–is helpful to you. They may want to offer you help but do not know what you need or want.
- Others who also have cancer. People who have been through cancer often share a special bond with one another. Sharing what you have been through with others and hearing how they have coped can be a source of strength for you.
- Support groups. There are many types of groups. Think about what you would like in a group and talk to your health care provider to help you find that type of group.
- Spiritual help, which can come from your church, synagogue, or other religious center. Or you may find that reading, talking with others, and meditating or praying provide you with a sense of peace and strength.
- Health care providers both in the community and in the hospital. A whole range of specially trained people are available to help you meet all your needs.
- Caregivers, who provide your day-to-day care. As they care for you, remind them that they need to care for their own needs as well.