Medical expertise is a key part of your cancer treatment. But it won’t be
enough. To get through this, you’ll also need to build a cancer support team at
home with your family and friends.
Having good cancer support at home is crucial. “A cancer diagnosis adds an
enormous amount of stress to a person’s life,” says Harold J. Burstein, MD, a
staff oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. “But people who
have strong social supports -- good friends and family -- tend to cope much
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Here are some tips from the experts on how to get cancer support from your
friends and family.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may feel awkward about asking
friends or family for help. You may not want to impose. But you need help right
now. You can’t get through treatment by yourself. So summon up your courage and
ask. You may be surprised at how willing people are to pitch in. In fact, they
may just be waiting for you to ask.
Build a team. Don’t lean too much on one person. Instead, ask for
help from several people. That way, you won’t feel guilty about imposing too
much on one person, and no relative or friend will feel overwhelmed. When
asking for cancer support, play to the strengths of individual friends and
family, says Terri Ades, MS, APRN-BC, AOCN, director of cancer information at
the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. Ask a methodical, organized friend to
help you come up with a schedule and work out the logistics of planning
treatments. Ask your sister the chef to prepare dinners that you can freeze and
reheat as needed. Obviously, your closest family members -- your spouse,
children, or parents -- are likely to be at your side through this. But they
may not always be the most helpful cancer supports, says Ades. They’re going to
be frightened and upset just like you. So for some types of support, friends --
who are a little further removed -- may be more helpful.
Bring a partner to appointments. Obviously, a friend or family
member can offer emotional support during doctor’s appointments or treatments.
But he or she can also have an important practical role in cancer support.
During the appointment, a partner might remember details or questions that you
forget. “It’s great to have a second set of ears in these meetings,” says Jan
C. Buckner, MD, chair of medical oncology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester,
Figure out what you need and ask for it. A lot of people may want to
help but aren’t sure what to do. If you don’t give them guidance, they may do
things that you don’t really want. So figure out what sort of cancer support
you need. Do you want someone to watch the kids while you take a nap? Do you
need someone to drive you to chemotherapy? Or do you just want a pal who will
go to dinner and the movies -- without saying a word about your cancer? Decide
what you need and then ask for it.
Talk to your children. “Parents want to protect their
children,” says Ades, “and many don’t want to tell their kids about a cancer
diagnosis.” But she says that’s the worst thing you could do. “Your kids are
going to find out whether you tell them or not,” she tells WebMD. So it’s
better to talk to them now so you can control how they learn about it.
Obviously, you need to adjust the information depending on the age of your
child: a teenager will require a lot more detail than a 4-year-old. But all
children will be worried -- not only about you, but also about how their own
lives will change. You need to reassure them that their needs won’t be
neglected, says Ades.
Appoint a surrogate. No one wants to think about it, but Buckner
urges patients to appoint a legal surrogate who can make decisions about your
health care if you become unable to. Don’t look at this as a bad omen. “It’s
just like having insurance or a will,” says Buckner. “It’s just a