Supporting a loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer, whether friend or family, can be a difficult situation. Every patient will require different needs and types of support. Some patients are incredibly resilient in their optimism and perspective of life, while others may feel incredibly discouraged. Some may not know what to feel, especially when first diagnosed. While there is not a general support plan guaranteed to help every cancer patient, there are some guidelines you can follow to offer the best emotional support for your loved one.
Listening may sound simple enough, but is harder than you think. Cancer patients need time to process their new situation. It may awhile before they really know how they feel; they’ll experience a range of emotions, and you’ll most likely be a sounding board for their frustrations, hopes, fears, and more. Just listen. Unless you’ve battled cancer before, you likely have no idea what they’re going through, which will make it near impossible to empathize with them.
It’s our nature to offer words of encouragement, especially when a loved one is feeling down on themselves. There is a time to encourage, but sometimes they may not want to hear that “It’ll turn out” or that “Everything will be fine.” If your loved one is venting, then listen to what they have to say and just be there for them. “I love you” and “I’m here for you” may be the best things you can say.
Support Their Treatment Decisions
As a caring friend or family member, you’ll most likely do your own extensive research on available treatments for cancer. While educating yourself on cancer is beneficial and shows that you care, it’s important that you remember to respect your loved one’s treatment decisions. It is their body and their choice. Oftentimes, we can be overbearing when it comes to helping our loved one make big decisions, such as cancer treatment. But when they make a decision, they need you to be in their corner.
Advise Only When Asked
This is directly related to our previous tip. Your loved one is often receiving lots of information from a variety of sources: doctors, oncologists, friends, family members, and even strangers they come into contact with. While everyone is often well-intentioned, it can be easy for your loved one to become overwhelmed with everything that’s being thrown at them.
Instead of constantly coming to them with new bits of information about the diagnosis or possible treatments, just be there for them through it all. If they ask your advice, then it’s the perfect time to speak up; however, make sure that you do not unload everything you’ve been saving up. Keep your advice relevant to the question asked.
Maintain a Sense of Normalcy
With new medication, planned treatments, and other changes, it’s easy for your loved one to feel as if everything is changing. The need for normalcy, such as life pre-cancer, is greater than ever. You may be tempted to offer to take care of everything, even down to washing the dishes, but you may find that your loved one wants to keep performing everyday tasks or enjoy everyday activities.
This does not mean that you shouldn’t offer to help, but respect their wishes should they decline, and be their escape if that’s what they want. Also, there’s a reason they say, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Just take it from cancer survivor Sherry Smith in an article from Gaiam Life:
“It was the laughter, the silliness, the keeping things light and ‘normal.’ It allowed me the freedom to just let loose and experience some of the joy that I thought I might never see again. When I would hear myself laughing from somewhere deep within my soul, there was a part of me that said, ‘You’re going to make it. You’re going to do this. You are so loved, and life is just so great even when it’s so horrid.’”
Make Specific, Sincere Offers
Here’s something that many cancer patients will hear multiple times in a day: “Let me know if you need anything.” While the intentions are pure from those offering help, it’s possible your loved one will feel uncomfortable calling on you in a moment of need. Of course, this may not be a problem if you share a close relationship; nevertheless, get specific about what you’re willing to do. You can offer to do the grocery shopping, taking the kids to and from school, running other errands, or giving them a ride to and from treatments.
Remember, your loved one may wish to perform some of these tasks on their own, and you definitely should respect their wishes. But, it’s easier for your loved one to accept your help when the help offered is not so open-ended.