This morning, a student of mine told me, in tears, that her mother had cancer and that she found it extremely stressful and hard to deal with. It is not easy to cope with such a situation, especially at such a tender age. I am lucky enough not to have had the experience of watching my parents go through such an illness but I have witnessed both, my paternal and maternal, grandfathers and many dear relatives who suffered and passed away because of it while others have survived and are living perfectly normal lives now.
Watching my student cry her heart out broke my heart and made me hit the Internet to search for some tips on how to support loved ones as well as how to cope with it all…I wanted to help her but also thought about the many out there who are living it as well… I have read many articles and the below strategies are, I found, the most important.
How to cope with a loved one that has cancer:
1. Learn as much as you can about the type of cancer that your loved ones have. This not only takes your mind away and focuses your attention on something useful but it also helps you learn what to expect and how to be prepared to support your loved ones.
2. Go to the doctor’s clinic with your loved ones to hold their hands and also to remind them of what the doctor had said. It is overwhelming for your loved ones to take in every little detail of the meeting.
3. Take good care of yourself as you are the rock that your loved ones would need for support. If you are healthy and strong then you will do a better job of handling the stress. So rest, eat well, get some exercise and a breath of fresh air from time to time.
4. Accept help from family and friends. It is ok to ask them to cook a meal for you or help around the house. They can also help you emotionally so do not be ashamed of telling them your feelings. Cancer affects everyone and not just the person who is diagnosed with it.
5. You can also seek professional help. Talking to a therapist is nothing to be ashamed of. They might have better strategies and tips on how to deal with such a difficult situation.
How to support a loved one that has cancer:
1. Listen to your loved ones however uncomfortable it may be. Try not to offer suggestions or ways to fix things. Sometimes, your loved ones just want to talk to work out a way to deal with the illness or the possibility of dying. Listen to them, give them all your attention by looking at them and do not interrupt or judge them.
2. Deal with your own feelings first before you tackle your loved ones’. You probably have a million questions on your mind such as; Will they live? Will they have pain? How will life change? Face your own fears first and then you will be able to listen and pay attention to your loved ones.
3. Always tell them that you love them. Encourage them and praise their efforts. Let them know that they are special and valued. Let them know that you think the world of them and that you know they are strong.
4. Do not wait for your loved ones to ask for help. Offer your assistance before they do. Offer to drive them to the hospital or cook a meal for them… offer to wash some clothes or sheets for them. BUT also respect their need to be alone sometimes. Monitor the visitors that come to check on your loved ones. If you feel that your loved ones have to entertain them, and does not want to offend them, you can simply ask your friends and family to come back another day and thank them for caring.
5. Do not hide things from your loved ones or other family members. Your loved ones with cancer need an honest assessment of their condition to be able to make decisions that best fit their needs no matter how painful it may be. This also applies to telling your other members of the family about the situation. Sometimes we feel that we need to protect our children from the reality of the situation but if we did, then they would imagine the worse. So even if the prognosis is poor, sharing that with them will give them the opportunity to begin their grieving and express their love.
May you never have to deal with such a difficult situation… but if you are living it right now, then may you be strong physically and emotionally to be able to support yourself, your loved ones who have cancer and your other family members. May love and sunshine be with you wherever you may be.