Five Ways for Loved Ones of Cancer Patients to Cope Better
by Guest Writer Marcus Clarke, BSc, MSc.
When someone you love and care for, whether it be a family member or a friend, is diagnosed with cancer, it can be very difficult to accept the changes they go through. A cancer diagnosis is a life-changing experience that can leave you feeling anxious, stressed out and worried. Coping with such changes can be very difficult, and it can reach a point that you cannot control stress and succumb to depression. This article contains several ways that can help you cope better if you have a loved one who has just been diagnosed with cancer.
1. Relax and Stay Calm
If you can relax and stay calm, your loved one will remain calmer than if you actively show you are stressed out. Although you might become emotional sometimes, learning to relax will significantly help you to cope. You have to accept that you cannot control the situation, and the best thing you can do is to give hope and encouragement to your loved one. If your stress reflects onto your loved one, the stress can actually lead to a worsening of their physical symptoms. So it’s important to be positive as much as you can, to be calm and relaxed for your own good as well as your loved one.
Always focus on the facts and avoid living with the fear of losing your loved one. Try to be optimistic and believe that everything happens for a reason. Cancer is different from person to person, and is not necessarily a death sentence. Treatments are improving all the time over what they were years ago, and there are many things the cancer patient can do for themselves which will help to increase their survival time and even to be cured. It is thus imperative to stay positive and hope for the best.
3. Accompany Them to Doctor Appointments
Although you might feel emotional when you accompany your loved one to physician’s appointments, this is the best way you can help them cope better. This is important because your loved one needs support and might be overwhelmed by the medical tests and emotional upheaval due to these sudden changes in health and life. Offering support to them will help you understand their fear and help them overcome that fear.
4. Ask Questions
Do not be afraid to ask the doctor any question that is bugging you. If you think that you might forget the questions, write them down on a piece of paper. Asking questions helps you to be informed and understand the facts about the cancer that your loved one has been diagnosed with. You can even research about the type of cancer your loved one has so that you know more. Having a better understanding will help you manage your own stress and cope better.
5. Be Ready for Changes
Your loved one may be taking medications and/or chemotherapy or other treatments related to their cancer, and they can become stressed and moody. So be ready for mood swings, stress, and any discomfort that your loved one might go through. Support them as much as you can, talk to them openly and encourage them. This will help them cope with the diagnosis and treatments, and at the same time, you will come to terms with the fact that they have cancer and the best way to help is through offering support.
There are so many other ways that you can cope better, but the most important one is accepting that some events are out of your control. Try to get plenty of sleep, eat regularly and avoid drugs or alcohol. By doing this, you will have the courage to face the situation and be there for your loved one.
Marcus Clarke has a degree in psychology, a masters degree in health psychology and has worked within the NHS as well as private organisations. Marcus started psysci, a psychology and science blog in order to disseminate research into bitesize, meaningful and helpful resources that are interesting and insightful and often help people on the right track to improving their lives.
Thanks to Marcus for these helpful tips. GET MY BEST TIPS on healthy ways to beat breast cancer and prevent recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right. You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.
How To Support Someone With Breast Cancer – Part 3, Recovery Phase
If someone you know is going through breast cancer and you are looking for tips on how best to support them, this series of articles is offered to provide you with some inspiration.
The Recovery Phase
This final article (in a series of 3) offers some ideas for supporting someone you care about who has been through all of their treatments for breast cancer and is in the recovery phase. Both of you might be wondering “What happens after breast cancer?”.
Having been through this phase myself, I’d like to share that it’s actually not as easy as it sounds. Everyone expects you to be better, to pick up your life exactly where you left off, to just “get on with it”, the bad stuff is over. But that is far from how you may be feeling.
For me, finishing the treatments and moving on was kind of scary. I was leaving the umbrella of my doctors’ protection – and I left early, having decided that some of what was recommended for me wasn’t going to be therapeutic at all. Ten years ago, there was very little information on the Internet about natural treatments for cancer, and I felt like the Lone Ranger. But I was determined to do this my way.
I also felt like I had just been through hell and back, I was definitely a changed person. Mentally, I believe I changed for the better, but physically? Those toxic treatments take their toll. Also, I was just at the precipice of 50 years of age. I felt like I could do anything, but what should that “anything” be?
Those are just some of the things that a person can be feeling when they get through the treatments for breast cancer. So here are some suggestions on how you can help your loved one during the all-important recovery phase.
5 Things You Can Do To Help Someone Who Is Recovering From Breast Cancer
1. Be A Good Listener. Don’t assume that just because the doctor pronounces them “cancer free”, everything is good, wonderful and recovery is at 100%. That’s usually not the case. Make sure to ask how she/he is feeling and then LISTEN and read between the lines. If you are reasonably close to this person, you will know whether they are genuinely feeling okay or whether there is some nagging problem. You don’t have to “fix” the nagging problem, but I would encourage you to listen to what they say. Be there with them and let them know that you care.
2. Be Prepared For An Emotional Roller-Coaster. It is not uncommon for your loved one to be dealing with a wide range of emotions ranging from grief to sadness, depression, isolation (especially if they live in a very small community), and anxiety that the cancer may return. They will definitely need your patience, reassurance and understanding during this time. If they really seem to be struggling with the fear factor, depending on how severe that fear is, your loved one might need:
(a) Counseling to help them deal with it; and/or
(b) The services of a breast cancer coach or a naturopath or integrative doctor to help them formulate a healing and wellness regime so that they know they are doing absolutely everything they can to keep themselves well.
3. Go To Those Scary Appointments. Accompanying your loved one on their follow-up doctor appointments will mean a lot. Why? Because those follow-up appointments are scary. Worries of the cancer returning are going to be uppermost in your loved one’s mind so go with them and reassure them with your presence. At first, the follow-up appointments will probably be scheduled about every 3-6 months. The longer your loved one has been free of cancer, the less often the appointments are needed. After 5 years, they are typically done just once a year, if at all.
4. Encourage Those Good Habits. Impress upon your loved one the importance of taking good care of themselves. This is not the time for the good diet and nutrition and supplements to go out the window. The recovery phase is the time to really stay on top of those things, to help make sure that any stray cancer cells that the treatments may have missed is mopped up by a strong immune system. If you need help with this, make sure to subscribe to my free newsletters and e-books, full of my best information on healing from breast cancer and preventing recurrences.
5. Give Them Time. Give your loved one as much time as they need for this recovery phase. Remember that each person’s experience is individual. Remind them (and you!) that they need to give themselves time to find a new way to be in the world. Let them know you are right there with them, supporting them and however long it takes is however long it takes.
I hope this article helps someone out there. If you would like to add your idea to the list, please feel free in the comments section. You might also find some assistance within the pages of this website.
GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right. You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.
How To Support Someone With Breast Cancer – Part 2, Treatment Phase
If someone you know has just received a breast cancer diagnosis, and you are looking for tips on how best to support them, this series of articles is offered to provide you with some inspiration.
The Treatment Phase
This second article (in a series of 3) will offer some help for supporting the person who is going through treatments for breast cancer.
And kudos to you for being the support person! It’s not always an easy job.
My best friend took on that role so that my husband could keep working and stay focused on his role of sole provider for the both of us while I was going through breast cancer treatments. Some of the things she did for me will be included here because they were just so darned beneficial to me.
19 Things You Can Do To Genuinely Help During the Treatment Phase
If your friend needs surgery, find out what kind of food they will be offered in the hospital – quite often hospital food is so processed, there’s no way it is going to help someone heal quickly. Bring your friend some freshly prepared organic vegetable soup with beans or organic chicken in it (beans and chicken have lots of protein and protein is needed so that the surgical site can repair quickly). Include some shiitake mushrooms, they help to boost immunity.
Offer to cook nutritious meals for them. Find out what they are eating, because if they are going through chemotherapy, there might be a lot of things off the menu for them due to mouth sores, indigestion issues, etc. Choose organic whole foods that have little to no sugar in them. Sugar feeds cancer cells, so something high in carbohydrates (like your favorite tuna casserole) is not a good idea. Deliver the food in disposable containers that are not expected to be returned.
If they are juicing, offer to come over and wash and prepare the vegetables and other produce for fitting down the juicer slot. Do enough for a week, this can be a very tiring part of the cancer patient’s day but oh-so-necessary for recovery.
If they are going through chemotherapy, offer to go to their treatment sessions with them. While there, do your best to keep them in a cheery state of mind. Take along a joke book or something to make them laugh. I always took freshly prepared juices with me – they would put the chemotherapy in and I’d be drinking healthy juices to help protect me from the toxicity. One proviso – if you are sick yourself or suspect you may have been exposed to something, please excuse yourself, because your germs will not help someone who is immuno-compromised.
Take them shopping for needed items. They may be too tired to do it themselves but having a friend nearby for energy and reassurance can make a big difference.
Every week, send them a beautiful card with an inspirational message in it. Communication means everything to someone going through these treatments and this kind of thing – easy enough to do – can make the difference in someone’s otherwise depressing day.
If you are out of town, send them a gift card to a local, favorite restaurant. Not having to cook after a chemotherapy or radiation session can mean the world to them. You could also send them a movie gift card or a gift certificate to a local spa so they can get a massage.
Make a chemo gift basket filled with things to help them pass the time during treatments – crossword puzzles, books, magazines, iTunes gift cards. If you know they will have a family member with them, maybe include a book or magazine that would appeal to that person as well.
If the weather is cold, giving a hat, a beautiful scarf, cozy socks or a handmade cozy blanket would be very much appreciated.
If the weather is hot, hydration is important, so give them a beautiful water bottle that doesn’t sweat. Also a personal misting fan works great for the associated hot flashes that occur because of the treatments. I love these.
Give the gift of your time. Just go sit and be with her. Bring flowers. Hold her hand and listen to her tale of woes. Or help her to find some humor in the situation. Just be there, understand and care. Give her a hug. Be aware she might have “chemobrain”. People on chemo tend to be a little forgetful. Realize you may have to repeat things to her, and understand it’s part of the process. Just be there for her, and let her know that you care.
If your loved one doesn’t have a regular housekeeper, perhaps hire a maid service, one time or regularly. Or while visiting, you could offer to do some clean-up yourself (be prepared for resistance – they may not want to accept the help!). Be persistent, but be prepared to accept it if they aren’t comfortable with it.
Offer to do some gardening – mowing the lawn, pulling out weeds, chopping wood, trimming back overgrown bushes – all of these can be overwhelming for a person going through cancer treatments. Make sure you get permission first though – there’s nothing worse than chopping back something that looks like a weed but turns out to be their favorite plant in the garden.
If your loved one has children, offer to take them somewhere special or to the movies, or bring them something special when you visit. This helps your loved one have time to rest and it gives the children a break from the “sick house” when they can just be kids.
Order a comedy CD or DVD on Amazon and have it sent to your loved one.
Do some research on treatment options – your loved one might not have the brain power or patience to do this. Enlist the help of a naturopath, if need be, or a cancer coach.
Help your loved one find a good support group. Research indicates that women who join support groups while going through breast cancer have a much longer life expectancy than someone who does not, so support groups offer some very real, quantifiable results (I think it’s all those hugs given and received!). To find out where the closest ones are, organizations like the American Cancer Society, CancerCare and Cancer Support Community offer support groups in person, online and through hotlines. Their oncologist may also be aware of support groups in the area, so ask.
If your loved one is going through radiation treatments, make sure they know about the healing effects of aloe vera, calendula and lavender to combat the burning of the skin caused by the radiation.
Give them an hour with a breast cancer coach, someone who has been through this journey and has loads of tips and information, the latest research, and knows which natural therapies work and which ones aren’t so great, someone who can help them kick-start the healing process.
I hope this article helps someone out there. If you would like to add your idea to the list, please feel free in the comments section. You might also find some assistance within the pages of this website.
GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free newsletters and e-books on the right. You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates.
How To Support Someone With Breast Cancer – Part 1, The Diagnosis
If someone you know has just received a breast cancer diagnosis, and you are looking for tips on how to support your special someone, this series of articles is offered to provide you with some inspiration.
The Diagnosis Phase
This first article offers some suggestions for the person who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer – in the very early stages. She (or he) may be dealing with fear, anger, grief, disbelief – so many emotions. A diagnosis of cancer can seem very unreal, and your help, genuine concern and support can make a huge difference.
First of all, because even the best-intentioned person can find themselves saying something incredibly stupid, here is a list of what NOT to say.
The following statements are not only not helpful, they can be detrimental to someone who is fighting breast cancer, so please avoid these:
“You’ll be fine.” Why: It’s dismissive, it doesn’t allow them to open up about how they feel, and it makes you seem uncaring.
“Oh, poor you!” Why: They don’t need your sympathy, they need your assistance and they need you to listen.
“I know how you feel.” Why: No you really don’t. Each person’s journey with breast cancer is very individual and even if you’ve had it, you still don’t know how they might be feeling.
“Were you a smoker?” or “Is it in your family?” Why: Not only is it none of your business, it doesn’t help that you’re trying to find out why they have cancer. They will be doing plenty of that themselves.
“I know someone who had breast cancer, unfortunately, she died from it.” Why: SO NOT HELPFUL. No one wants to hear that when they are fighting for their lives. They need hope. One careless statement can ring in a person’s ears for weeks or months and keep them from fighting as hard as they need to.
“Call me if you need anything.” Why: You are going to need to think about what they may need and then just provide it (check with them first though). Women are notorious for NOT reaching out when they need help, they are more apt to just soldier on and do it themselves. See below for a list of helpful things you can do.
“Will you be okay financially since you won’t be able to work?” Why: (A) This assumes that they won’t be able to work and more often than not, this is simply not the case. Working through breast cancer is not only possible, it’s recommended (unless the job is toxic and they need to take a break from it) because it provides a bit of normality, some focus, and the camaraderie of work colleagues; and (B) unless they choose to share their financial situation with you, it’s none of your business.
“I think you should (xyz).” Why: What you think SO doesn’t matter. As mentioned above, the breast cancer journey is a very individual one. If you know of a therapy that you think might help, by all means, share it – be a fact finder, not an advice giver. Don’t tell your friend how they should be changing their lifestyle or diet. In this initial, early stage, it may be hard enough for them just to get out of bed in the morning. Share an article if you like – printed information allows your friend to make the choice for themselves.
Helpful Things To Say
“I’m here for you. Would you like to share with me a little more about what you’re going through?”
“I would love to help you. Would you like me to bring you some healthy meals or juices – or organize a network of friends to do this for you?”
“We will see this through together, I am beside you all the way.”
“I know this is hard for you, but I want you to know that I will do all I can to support you.”
“I’m really sorry you are going through this. Please know that you can count on me for anything you need.”
9 Things You Can Do To Genuinely Help During the Diagnosis Phase
Does your friend need help gathering information about the diagnosis received? Offer to do some Internet research – you will be more clearheaded and less overwhelmed. Feel free to use the information on this website if it resonates with you.
Be available to listen. They are going through a gamut of emotions – some of which might not make any sense to you. But develop your listening skills and really hear them. You may not need to make any comment at all, but just be there. Hold their hand. If you don’t mind receiving a phone call in the middle of the night, be sure to share that and I mention that because the middle of the night is when women with breast cancer lie awake worrying. Having a friend to talk to really, really helps.
Go to doctor’s appointments with your friend, especially if a spouse or partner isn’t available to go. Get together before each visit and write down a list of the questions that you both have. Be a note taker and an advocate for your friend. Make sure your friend understands the doctor’s proposed treatment plan – and why it’s being offered. Two sets of listening ears is always better than one, especially if your friend is feeling overwhelmed and stressed.
Keep in close contact with phone calls and/or emails and/or text messages. Not enough to make your friend feel overwhelmed, but just to be there for them. Keep that going – not just at the first, but as the days and weeks progress when most people have stopped doing this.
Help them set up a breast cancer page on websites that help patients connect with their friends and families. That way they aren’t feeling overwhelmed with calls or emails – they can just put their updates on the page and everyone can see it. Caringbridge.org, carepages.com, mylifeline.org are all good.
If you know someone who has fought breast cancer and survived it, talk with that person and see if it’s okay if you share their contact details with your newly-diagnosed friend. Having someone to speak with who’s “been there and done that” could be a life-changing thing for them.
Give them a copy of “Radical Remission” by Dr Kelly A Turner. It’s full of hope and great stories of survival from cancer.
Make them a care package – a book full of jokes, some healthy food, a light-hearted movie, a beautiful scarf – all of these things can help to cheer them up. Remember laughter is the best medicine.
If your friend isn’t good about saying “yes” to your offers of help, you may need to be more persuasive. Gently at first, but more persistently later. They may not be good about saying “yes” and you may just need to take no notice of them saying “no”. You’re treading a fine line here – but if you are a good friend to this person, you should be able to tell when someone actually needs your help and is too afraid to ask for it, or genuinely does not want you to do something.
I hope this article helps someone out there. If you would like to add your idea to the list, please feel free in the comments section. You might also find some assistance within the pages of this website. One of my articles in particular may help your friend: Newly Diagnosed? Dealing With Anxiety And Fear.
GET MY BEST TIPS on getting through breast cancer and preventing recurrences by signing up for my free e-newsletters and e-books on the right. You can also “like” me on Facebook (MarnieClark.com) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.
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About Marnie Clark
Hi I'm Marnie Clark, breast cancer survivor, and breast cancer coach. I have 20+ years of experience in natural medicine. In 2004/05 I battled breast cancer myself. You can see more about my journey on my page Breast Cancer Diary.
I've been healthy and recurrence-free since 2004 and in 2012 I became a Breast Cancer Coach because I became aware of the fact that whilst there is now a wealth of information on the Internet, much of it is confusing, conflicting, and sometimes just wrong!
Why should you work with me? Because:
(1) You don't want to go through this journey alone, feeling unempowered, frightened or just plain
clueless about what to do to help yourself.
(2) You will have someone working tirelessly on your behalf, putting together a healing plan for
you so you don’t have to lose your precious energy researching what food you should eat,
what supplements you should take, and what other things you can do that will give you the
best chances for survival. Instead you can spend that time resting, meditating, healing.
(3) You will learn what questions to ask your doctor (and have someone to turn to for the
questions they can't or won't answer).
(4) You will be armed with the tools and strategies you will need to get through the therapies you
choose so you can make your body hostile terrain for cancer.
You can also “like” me on Facebook (Marnie Clark, Breast Health Coach) to get my inspirational snippets, news and updates. I promise to do my utmost to keep you informed and empowered on your healing journey… and beyond.