If a friend or family member has recently been diagnosed with cancer, you may be feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about how you can help to support them through this difficult time. There are many things you can do to help, whether the person you care about is a family member, friend, colleague or neighbour.
Find out how they want you to help – if at all. Don’t make assumptions about the level of support you think a person will need but make sure they’re aware that you are willing to help out with certain tasks, if they would like you to. Some individuals may be more likely to accept an offer of help if it is specific and maybe even identifies a need that they themselves didn’t realise they had. So rather than making a general offer of support, tell them that you are available to, for example, collect them from the hospital, prepare some meals for the week ahead, do some light cleaning around their house or take care of their children for a few hours. Even just sitting and listening can be a big help.
If you’re struggling with confusion or feelings of uncertainty, it may help to learn more about the type of cancer that the person you are supporting is going through. Consult medical professionals, online resources or local support groups to educate yourself. This will help you to feel more in control of the situation. It may also mean that you aren’t putting pressure on the person you are supporting to explain aspects of their illness to you that they might not feel comfortable discussing.
When you take the role of caregiver to somebody you are close to, the dynamic of your relationship can change significantly. While some people can take satisfaction from their role as a carer for their loved one, others can struggle with adapting to this role. Taking on the responsibility of caring for a parent, for instance, can feel strange and uncomfortable as your roles become reversed. Be honest and open about these feelings. It is likely that the person you are supporting is struggling with their changing role in your relationship too. Acknowledging that this is a difficult situation may be a relief to both of you.
Take care of yourself. Caring for another person can be extremely draining but you must put your own needs first. Failing to do so can lead to long-term stress and, eventually, burnout. Signs that you may be experiencing burnout include feeling anxious, sad or hopeless or feeling resentment or unreasonable annoyance towards other people. To avoid this, try to ensure you maintain at least a little time for yourself each day. Maintain as much of the regular exercise you were doing before the diagnosis as you can. Try to keep in touch with your own friends and allow some time to do the things that you enjoy. It may feel as though you need to be available all of the time to the person you are supporting but putting your own needs behind those of another person is not a healthy or helpful practice in the long-term. Self-care is not selfish. It gives you the strength and ability to be the best support you can be.
4th February is World Cancer Day. Visit www.worldcancerday.org for more information or join the global effort to raise cancer awareness on social media using #WorldCancerDay #WeCanICan