A loved one’s diagnosis of cancer can be hard, not only for the person diagnosed, but also for close family and friends.

There is no list of strategies for coping with the emotions of a loved one who is diagnosed, fighting, or surviving cancer. As a family member or friend, it is important to understand that each person with cancer is different and deals with it in their own way. Cancer is a journey and is different for everyone, not only for the diagnosed, but also for co-survivors. Coping emotionally can be hard and a long-term process for both survivor and co – survivor. The diagnosis of cancer can bring out fear, anger, disbelief, sadness, and depression in some survivors.

There are effective strategies for improving cancer patients’ coping and quality of life, even in low resource settings. Social support is one of these simple and effective strategies. An article from the Journal of Advance Nursing states that many people with cancer experience intense needs both to clarify what is happening to them, and to be supported and reassured.  Previous research shows that social support is beneficial to cancer patients when adjusting to the stress of having cancer. Because of the emotion fear that sometimes can be associated with the diagnosis, this can make those with cancer more likely not to obtain adequate support because of the lack of appreciation of the support given by family, friends, coworkers, and health personnel.

Social support is a complex construct which has been suggested to have direct effects on patient’s wellbeing and emotional adjustment to cancer, and works well for co-survivors too. As your loved one cope with the impact of the diagnosis, sometimes simply being there is reassuring. Just being there and listening has a huge impact on coping emotionally. Sometime offering practical support can help with coping for your survivor as well. Things like cooking and cleaning, running errands if the individual is not able and helping with tasks such as picking up prescriptions, or walking the dog. For spouses with kids, practical support could be taking and picking the kids up from school or helping with laundry and bath time.

How can you help as a co-survivor?

Practice self-care.  Self-care is important for co-survivors. An unhealthy co-survivor isn’t very beneficial to the survivor. Exercise is a helpful tip to reduce stress levels and trying to maintain healthy eating habits will also help reduce stress. Also, taking personal time to relax is important. Do something that is calming for you as a co-survivor, even if it’s just for a moment. Keeping yourself optimistic is going to aid in helping your survivor continue to be optimistic.

Listen.  Some may disagree but this is a vital component to social support. Listening is beneficial because relieving all your emotions can be an amazing stress relief. Have you ever had so much built up inside of you and before you knew it, you have went on this long rant about your horrible week and how you just don’t want to go on? Then after you take a deep breath from ranting, you exhale, and doesn’t it feel much better to get all of that off your chest? It’s like a sigh of relief. It’s like all of the pressure that had built up is now gone.  Some cry afterwards while some laugh or smile, but the main point is that one never knows how meaningful a small conversation or just listening can be to a person battling  cancer. Try listening without being judgmental or offering advice.

Support your loved one.  Support your loved ones and the decisions they choose to make. You can show support in many ways whether big or small. Simple phone calls regularly to check in and see how things are going, little gestures such as a text message saying, “I love You,” or otherwise offering words of encouragement is always great.

Stay connected. It is very important to stay connected with your loved one. This is another great way to show social support. If you are able, go to doctor visits and support the survivor by accompanying them to their appointments. Phones calls and visits are great ways of staying connected as well and going to treatments and therapy if one is able. Most importantly educate yourself on the disease. Self-educating makes you as a co-survivor more aware of the diagnosis and more receptive to the needs of the diagnosed.

Laugh. Laughter reduces pain, improves the flow of oxygen to the heart and brain, connects people, and overall makes things feel better. Cancer Treatment Centers of America offers laughter therapy resources for patients to help relieve physical or emotional stresses or discomfort.

Overall be open of your loved ones needs after treatment is over. Even though your loved one is over treatment, they may still need your emotional support. This is often the time they realize the extent of what they’ve been through and no longer need help with doctors’ appointments and coping with the side effects of treatment, but now need your support of figuring out the next step in their life.




Sources:  Krishnasamy, M. (1996), Social support and the patient with cancer: a consideration of the literature. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 23: 757–762. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.1996.tb00048.x