Everybody knows somebody with cancer. Almost everyone, everywhere has been impacted by a cancer diagnosis at some point in their lives. Cancer sucks. What sucks even worse is not knowing what to do when someone you know and love has to hear those 3 dreadful words: you. have. cancer.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer is one of the most common and aggressive forms of cancer diagnosed among women. Throughout this month the color pink is everywhere. Pink shirts, pink ribbons, pink run/walk races, etc. These efforts to help raise awareness, prevention, and research funds are so admirable. While I love seeing these campaigns symbolizing support, understanding, and purpose, they also remind me of the staggering number of people who have been impacted by this one type of cancer. Then I think about all of the other individuals who have been diagnosed with other forms of cancer. The numbers added together are gut wrenching.
With these high prevalence rates and far reaching numbers I felt a need to inform and educate my readers and the many individuals who are directly impacted by a cancer diagnosis what to do when your world is flipped upside down by this disease.
My life has personally been flooded with cancer diagnoses. I’ve had numerous friends and family members diagnosed with cancer, survive cancer, and others who, tragically, have died from cancer. Each and every time, regardless of type, stage, or prognosis, a cancer diagnosis has sucked. Majorly.
I’m sure many of you, like myself, have experienced something similar. Your loved one has been diagnosed with cancer. What now? How do you support yourself and others during a serious illness? What is the answer when it comes to cancer?
First and foremost you have to care for yourself. We all know the age old adage: you can’t care for someone else unless you care for yourself. This is so true! If you are sleep deprived, stressed to the max, and feeling unable to cope, chances are you won’t be much help to someone else in the same boat. Take care of yourself first. Know your limits, set boundaries, and respect those boundaries. Have a mental health day to catch up on sleep, clean the house, run some errands, or my personal favorite: talk to someone. Give yourself a chance to vent about your stress, worries, and anxieties. For more tips on self-care check out one of my previous blogs here: Treat Yo Self!
After you have taken some time to care for yourself, try focusing on what you can control. When it comes to a cancer diagnosis all control can seem lost. And if you are a control freak like me, this part really sucks. It can be so painful to see a disease take control of someone’s mind and body. Someone who was once active, vibrant, and strong may now be confined to a bed, fragile, and weak. You can’t control these negative side effects of cancer. Start by recognizing that yes, some control has been lost, but don’t get wrapped up in what you cannot control. Instead, try focusing on whatever it is you can control: your attitude, your optimism, your level of support. You can’t control hair loss due to chemotherapy. You can help pick out fashionable head scarves, wigs, or trendy, in-season hats. You can’t control appetite loss or changes your loved one may experience. You can cook a delicious lasagna dish that can be frozen and reheated when the appetite returns.
Stay present focused. When someone we love is diagnosed with cancer the worries, the fears, and the feeling of pure helplessness sinks in. What do we do now? What will happen next? What if they don’t survive this awful monster? Our minds can race, rather quickly, with anxiety about the unknowns of the future. This is normal and to be expected. Yes, it is helpful to plan for the future, but if you find yourself overwhelmed with the “what ifs” try focusing on the present moment. What can you do right now, tomorrow, or the next week? If a major surgery is scheduled in 2 weeks plan something fun or relaxing for your loved one before then. If you are stuck waiting on results from scans focus on the progress made or small victories accomplished so far. And if the prognosis is grim, spend every present moment you can creating meaningful and memorable moments with the one you love. Don’t let the fate of the future rob the present moments you have right now.
Take action! This is the most common form of coping with a cancer diagnosis. Especially for all you men who still think you have to be tough and strong all the time, taking action can be a great way to support to someone battling cancer. Take charge of creating the warrior t-shirts, rubber bracelets, etc. Those visible signs of support can be encouraging and uplifting to cancer patients. Organize the fundraising walk, get a team together, badger your coworkers to donate. If t-shirt design and run/walks aren’t your thing, offer to clean their house, walk their dog, pick up their kids from school. I encourage all of my clients to turn their anxieties into action. Don’t get stuck ruminating about your worries. Doing something action-oriented is a powerful form of emotional expression.
Know your role. Emotions are high. Stress is through the roof. Cancer encroaches into every crevice of someone’s once normal life. Be careful not to overstep boundaries. This is especially important if there is a degree of separation between you and the person with cancer. For example, your friend’s mother, your husband’s father, or your coworker’s child has been diagnosed. Be sure to ask directly what you can do to help before you dive into action mode. While any type of support is always appreciated, make sure the individual and their families are comfortable with your level of involvement. When in doubt, ask before you jump in to help.
Everyone deals with a cancer diagnosis differently. Cancer is personal. Cancer sucks. Do what you can to take care of yourself as you navigate the emotional roller coaster of supporting someone diagnosed with cancer.
If you feel like you need additional help as you try to support someone with a serious illness, reach out! Cancer support centers are available in most areas to assist not just the patient, but friends and family members who are also impacted by a cancer diagnosis. Check to see what type of support is available in your city: https://www.cancersupportcommunity.org/FindLocation
If you are a local reader and need more tips on this topic come see me, I’m here to help!