A Wellbeing Tip

Providing understanding and support in the face of cancer

How you can make a difference!

by Amy Helein, MAC, LPCIT

3 women on a sofa

Cancer. That one word heard from a doctor or as a loved one shares a recent health diagnosis can create anxiety, fear, anger, sorrow and, in some cases, a deep sense of loss. This very same word can also bring compassion, courage and reveal an inner strength we have never felt before or witnessed in others. Whether we are the individuals receiving this life-changing diagnosis or we are the person supporting our loved one, the journey is a difficult one.

October is Cancer Awareness Month, although needing a month specifically on a calendar is not a necessary factor to show support or raise awareness. However, it can be a time we stand together and recognize those who are in the midst of battling cancer, those who are survivors and honor those loved ones whom we’ve lost. Advances in research, preventative measures, new treatment plans and holistic options have all increased over the last several decades. How does one navigate through this maze? How do you know which approach is best? How do I support someone beginning this journey? Her journey; her story

A friend of mine, Marcia, shared what it was like for her when she came face to face with the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer over seven years ago. She explained that it took several months of doctor appointments to pinpoint the reason for her symptoms of nausea, pain and loss of energy. Through the use of tests, a tumor was located on the distal part of her pancreas. Surgery to remove the encapsulated tumor was scheduled within the same week. In addition, the physician also ordered 18 chemotherapy treatments to be administrated upon her recovery from surgery.

Marcia began the chemo treatments several weeks later. As with many individuals before her, the treatments resulted in awful side effects. She struggled with the thought of receiving 16 more treatments and enduring the long months ahead. Sitting in the doctor’s office awaiting her next dose, Marcia made the very personal decision to stop her chemotherapy treatments. She realized, for her, this was not the path she wanted to continue. If she were to have a limited amount of time left, she decided to use her time differently. The choice brought her relief and a sense of peace.

For most of Marcia’s adult life, she relied on a combination of a holistic approach and Western medicine with her health care decisions. To further clarify, she did not believe one was “better” than the other, just that she had options. She considered the ability to customize her health care using both approaches a blessing. This strategy may not be the choice for everyone when facing such a serious illness. However, I share this story for that very reason — it is a personal choice.

Marcia experienced a great amount of support from her daughter, Tina. Unfortunately, this proved to be difficult for Marcia’s sister to accept, who decided to stop all communication for over a month. One of the most painful experiences is to see those we love suffer. So to see Marcia walk away from the recommended treatment plan created a fear and anger within Marcia’s sister. To let go and trust Marcia’s unconventional decision was difficult. Fortunately, the two were able to reconcile and continue their relationship. After she decided to withdraw from chemo treatments, Marcia began taking the natural form of chemotherapy. In addition, her daughter suggested the healing energy work of Reiki. Marcia received weekly in-home Reiki sessions for a year, which she continues on a monthly basis today. Marcia considers her journey through cancer one filled with a tremendous amount of gratitude. She is grateful that she had a loving and supportive son, doctors, nurses, friends and extended health care practitioners who listened and met her needs.

Strategies for support

The following points are a few suggestions from the American Cancer Society when talking with someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer.

older women holding hands

Listen. The person may or may not want to talk about their diagnosis. Let them lead the conversation. They may need to unload or want the distraction of talking about something else for a while.

Treat them the same way you did before. If going out for coffee was a weekly get-together, try to continue that same routine. It can bring a sense of normalcy when their days are filled with managing the illness.

Simply ask how you can help. Just running to the grocery store or getting the mail can mean so much.

For more helpful hints, refer to the  American Cancer Society website:   www.cancer.org