How Can Family Members and Friends Help A Person Who is Newly Diagnosed with Cancer?
Being told a diagnosis of cancer is a life changing experience. There will be many issues that will run through an individual’s mind when the diagnosis is conveyed. Not only must one contend with the information of the disease, one also has to make sense of all the investigations and treatments that are to follow. There may be physical discomforts, financial burdens, social and mental stresses. What is even more challenging being the realization that there are many unknowns and loss of control.
As a family member or friend of this individual, how do we support and show of love for them? Sometimes, some of the words and wisdom that we offer actually do not add value, worse still they may make the situation even more difficult. More often than not, we go into solution modes that do not offer any comfort.
In such situations, seeking more answers and potentially seeking a second opinion may be very useful, however baseless denials and questioning of the diagnosis may not be helpful. Phrases like “Do not worry, everything will be alright!” actually do not provide much comfort for any individual facing multiple uncertainties. Providing anecdotes of cases that we have heard about also do not provide value as the cancer in each individual needs to be contextualized based on the individual and the severity of each cancer at the point of diagnosis. Often such talk bring on more anxiety and confusion.
We suggest that the following may be more useful ways to provide support and love to those who face a cancer diagnosis:
Express compassion and empathy and acknowledge that this individual is suffering and has a difficult time ahead. If we have not had the same experience, we show compassion by ‘feeling for’ the individual. Only when we have literary experienced a diagnosis of cancer on ourselves can we say that we ‘feel with’ them. Saying that we understand how the individual feels when we have never been diagnosed to have cancer is not helpful.
Listening should take precedence over talking. The family member or friend should provide a listening ear for the individual to express his/her concerns and fears.
Aim to understand the needs and goals of the individual that you caring for. Very often we feel the burden to try to understand the situation or make decisions for the loved one. In reality, attempts to help the individual understand their own condition and articulate their own wishes and goals go much further. Autonomy engenders a more fulfilling cancer treatment journey.
Think about what you can do on a day to day basis to ease the burdens of day to day life for the individual. This may include providing meals, taking care of chores or caring for other individuals in the family.
Do not underestimate the power of gaze and touch in providing a peaceful and quiet condition for the individual to grief and come to terms with the situation.
In doing these things above, we can then provide a less threatening environment that is both comforting and nurturing to the individual whom we love.