If you’re a survivor, I could be singing to the choir with what’s in this article, but I want to offer you something to pass along to the people in your life—and to validate how you may think and feel.
There’s not much like a cancer diagnosis to challenge your beliefs about yourself, the world, and sometimes the people we love most. Now is when we most need a human connection; to reaffirm that life’s worth the ride; that we are worth it. That bond reaffirms we are not alone, even if our friends are not on this same ride. Oddly, this is the time that the “people connection” may lose its hold. It’s not easy to slip into your party pants when you’re feeling tired or sick. And sometimes it’s easier to make friends with a good book, or glass of wine because people disappoint us—say the wrong things, or say nothing at all.
Here’s what folks like us have said in focus groups regarding what we need, and what we don’t need, from the people we love who love us back…
• A majority of survivors identify emotional support (i.e., attempt to be understanding) as “most helpful."
• Informational support and advice is good from practitioners but not so much from family and friends.
• Assistance is much appreciated coming from anyone.
• And what so often makes the biggest difference is appraisal.
So translated into a quick and dirty “Guide for Survivors’ Loved Ones”…
Big DO NOTs:
• Minimizing the problem, forced cheerfulness, the words, “Do not worry.”
• Putting on the “Expert Hat” with comments like “This is the drug that will save your life,” or “Here’s the number for the Cancer Center you should go to.”
• And the one that hurts most … avoidance. When you slip into the shadows, what your friend or loved one hears is that life goes on without them.
• Maybe showing up with a nice, home-cooked meal or sending a card.
• Hearing out concerns and fears—the thing that most survivors say is missing. You don’t have to say you get it; just lending your ears is good medicine.
• And what just may go the furthest is praise … you find the words that best express the positive; if they’re genuine, what you will be saying is “Now I really get how important you are to me.”
Here are some interesting study findings on the human connection, sickness and health:
• The immune system's natural killer cells are negatively affected by "distress indicators"—one is lack of social support.
• People who get out more during flu season get sick less often.
• Social isolation disrupts cellular processes deep within the body, predisposing us to premature aging.
• Emotional support has the strongest associations with better adjustment to cancer.
“Loneliness isn't necessarily a result of being alone … [To feel un-alone] humans have a need to be affirmed up close and personal.” -John Cacioppo, neuroscientist, University of Chicago; co-author of “Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection”
Rachel Pappas is the Founder of www.1UpOnCancer.com, and author of Hopping Roller Coasters, a fabulous book about a mother and daughter; mental illness; falling, getting up. And then along comes cancer. It's about loving, being loved; forgiving, being forgiven.
For another good read on what not to say to a cancer patient, please visit:http://www.terminaltimes.net/2012/01/what-not-to-say-to-cancer-patient.html