COPING WITH CANCER ON MY OWN

This past weekend we did our annual Hope Shoot- a project we are very proud of. Our aim is to uplift and boost the spirits of ladies who have survived breast cancer. Once a year we invite a few very deserving ladies, to honour them and spoil them to a weekend away including a beauty make-over and a professional photo-shoot, celebrating their beauty and strength. They also do a video-shoot where they in return share their stories to inspire people currently battling the illness.

Every year’s testimonies are different, we realise that every person’s cancer struggle is different. This year, during one of the ladies’ testimonies, we witnessed the absolute horror of a brave, strong woman who had to fight cancer on her own. This made me wonder, how often does this actually happen? We were hoping this doesn’t occur often, that people are kind and supportive when they realise what a huge mountain lays ahead of someone else, and that no person will be allowed to face this struggle on their own.

Sadly we found out that thousands of cancer patients struggle to manage their treatment and recovery because they get no support from family or friends.  A survey by Macmillan Cancer Support suggests one in four newly-diagnosed patients lacks support. A survey of almost 1,800 patients found that people lacked support because family and friends lived too far away, had other commitments, or patients simply had no-one to turn to. Of those questioned, 12% said they had not had a visit from family or friends in more than six months. Half of those who said they were isolated had skipped meals or not eaten properly due to lack of help. And more than a quarter had been unable to wash themselves properly, while 60% had not been able to do household chores.

On a community page, we read horrific stories about patients having to face cancer on their own:

“Hello,  I would love advice on how to forgive and move on in family/friend relationships.  I was diag. with bc for the second time Oct. 5.  Had a double mastec. 10/26 and am having the expander reconstr. now.  It was such a shock to have bc a second time when I was nearly to my 5 yr. mark!  It is amazing to me that friends I considered some of my best dropped off dinner right after surgery and then have not been in touch since.  I haven’t even heard from my own sister (who does live in a different town from me…)  The thing is, now that I’m beyond the surgery etc. I’m getting emails from them saying “Happy New Year” let’s do lunch.  I am so hurt by their lack of help/care in the past few months that I don’t know if I can just go out to lunch and act like nothing happened??”

Someone else posted this: ” I completely get what you are saying. My sister, who lives about 10 blocks away has apparently dropped of the face of the earth..unless she wants something of course. I started chemo on a Monday, on Friday her husband, not her, calls to ask if her 3 kids can come stay the weekend at my house. Really?! No calls to see how I was feeling, no stopping by, no nothing. Pretty much since my DX she has been AWOL. Not sure what is going on there but it really hurts my feelings”

Someone not able to forgive, had this to say: “My only child knew I was having scans for extension of my stage 3 cancer – not even bothered to contact me for over 6 months, not even at Christmas – forgive, no, forget, never, move on, yes…….”

We can’t imagine being in that situation, but maybe this lady had the best advice for coping on your own: “I think there comes a time when you will forgive and forget.  I went through the same thing.  Rarely heard from my own siblings, and it honestly didn’t bother me while I was going through it, but after all was said and done, I did feel some disdain. I finally realised that I can’t control how people responded, but I could control how I responded in the future to those who have suffered through an illness.  I often send notes and emails and sms’s to friends who are suffering to let them know that I am thinking of them, praying for them, ask how they are doing, etc… even those who are years out from treatment….”

The question is how can we prevent this? In a prefect world the medical practitioner will already ask about a person’s social circle at diagnosis stage, making sure there will be someone there to help and support them during this time. But we don’t live in a perfect world.

Friends of people dealing with cancer, often don’t know what to do. Here are a few ideas we came across of what you can do:

  • Send brief, frequent notes or texts, or make short, regular calls. Include photos, kids’ drawings, silly cards, and cartoons.
  • Ask questions.
  • End the call or note with “I’ll be in touch soon,” and follow through.
  • Call at times that work best for your friend or set times for them to call you and return their messages right away.
  • Check in with the person who helps with their daily care (caregiver) to see what else they might need.
  • Always call before you visit. Be understanding if your friend can’t see you at that time.
  • Schedule a visit that allows you to give physical and emotional support for the caregiver, too. Maybe you can arrange to stay with your friend while the caregiver gets out of the house for a couple of hours.
  • Make short, regular visits rather than long, infrequent ones. Understand that your friend might not want to talk, but they may not like being alone either
  • Always refer to your next visit so your friend can look forward to it.
  • Try to visit at times other than weekends or holidays, when others may visit. Time can seem the same to a house-bound patient. A Tuesday morning can be just as lonely as a Saturday night.
  • Help your friend focus on whatever brings out good feelings, such as sports, religion, travel, or pets.
  • Help your friend keep an active role in the friendship by asking advice, opinions, and questions – even if you don’t get the response you expect.
  • Ask your friend if they’re having any discomfort. Suggest new ways to be more comfortable, such as using more pillows or moving the furniture.
  • Give honest compliments, such as “You look rested today.”
  • Support your friend’s feelings. Allow them to be negative, withdrawn, or silent. Resist the urge to change the subject.
  • Don’t urge your friend to fight the disease if they feel it’s too hard to do it.
  • Don’t tell them how strong they are; they may feel the need to act strong even when they’re sad or exhausted.

Maybe the best advise for anyone who wants to support someone with cancer is to not try too hard or say the ‘right’ things. It is so much better to talk to someone where they can just be themselves with and not feel like they have to be strong for them. Sometimes all someone with cancer needs is to sit beside a loved one — someone to listen and talk to them when they can’t stand the quiet, hold their hand while they cry, or pray while they pray.

One survivor wrote in a blog: “It was the laughter, the silliness, the keeping things light and ‘normal,’” she says. “It allowed me the freedom to just let loose and experience some of the joy that I thought I might never see again. When I would hear myself laughing from somewhere deep within my soul, there was a part of me that said, ‘You’re going to make it. You’re going to do this. You are so loved, and life is just so great even when it’s so horrid.’”

If you know someone is dealing with cancer on their own and you simply can’t be there for them, do the next best thing. Put them in touch with a community group, or speak to someone at CHOC ( 086 111 3500) or at CANSA ( 0800 22 66 22) and ask them for assistance.

No one should ever be allowed to face this on their own.

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