Cancer is a family disease. It not only impacts the woman who is experiencing the effects of her illness and treatment; it also impacts her family and friends. If you feel like you need to talk to someone, don't be afraid to reach out for support.
The Wellness Community
Gilda Radner was a supporter of the Wellness Community, which is an organization that offers a free program of emotional support, education and hope for people with cancer and their loved ones. Its founder, Dr. Harold Benjamin interviewed a group of people battling cancer and ex-cancer patients and came up with the following suggestions that family members and friends can use when talking to someone with cancer:
- Act naturally
- Don’t avoid the subject of cancer
- Maintain regular contact with the cancer patient
- Show love and affection
- No pity allowed
- Share uplifting stories and inspiration, nothing depressing
- Offer to do something useful and specific, and keep offering
- Don’t give medical advice
- Remember anniversaries and other important milestones that have personal significance to the person, such as the day they were diagnosed, had surgery, finished chemo
- Laugh together; share the same jokes, gossip and stories
For more information, please order Ovarian Cancer Canada's free resource manual for women living with cancer and their families, You Are Not Alone.
- Be aware of non-verbal communication and recognize when issues may be buried below the surface
- Maintain a comfortable posture and eye contact; make it obvious that you are really listening
- Say how you feel first, i.e. “I love you, but I’m feeling scared because I don’t know what is going on”
- Don’t minimize what she tells you about ovarian cancer
- Ask for clarification when you don’t understand
- Ask questions that call for more than a yes or no answer
- Be patient and listen to what she is saying, do not interrupt
- Avoid clichés
- Express your affection to her
- If there never seems to be a good time to really express how you feel, write it down, leave her a phone message or give her a small gift
- Ensure there is a person who is authorized to make health care decisions in the event that the patient is unable to make an informed medical decision
- Confirm all medical appointments
- Ask the doctor to clarify anything you don’t understand; take notes if necessary
- Act as the facilitator between the physician and patient
- Repeat and confirm any instructions at the end of the visit
- Call the clinic nurse if there are any questions
- If faced with a difficult decision, consider asking a third party, such as a social worker or spiritual advisor to help you
Cancer is a family disease. It not only impacts the woman who is experiencing the effects of her illness and treatment; it also impacts her family and friends. If you feel like you need to talk to someone, don't be afraid to reach out for support. Talking about your feelings can help you cope better.
Don’t underestimate your own sense of loss. The person who is experiencing cancer may have a number of losses to deal with, but you as a partner or loved one has likely made some considerable adjustments. You have to alter your dreams and plans of how you were going to spend your time together.
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There may be groups in your community that offer a way to connect on a regular basis with other caregivers. Members of support groups help one another by listening to others and telling their story, by sharing information based upon personal experience, by offering emotional support through empathy and understanding, and by providing a sense of belonging to a group.
Source: A Guide For Cancer Self Help Groups, Pat Kelly
If you need more specific help
Sometimes, you may need the more personal and focused help of an experienced mental health professional. As a caregiver, there may be times when you just feel like you have no one to unburden to. You may be worried about being judged by your family and friends. You may have issues that require some professional help to sort out. A clinical psychologist can be considered.
Find a psychologist at: http://www.cpa.ca