Helping a friend dealing with cancer can be a challenging, emotional experience, but it's also one of the most important. According to psycho-oncologist, breast cancer survivor and author of The House on Crash Corner, Mindy Greenstein, Ph.D., the social support system is the "number one factor in how well we cope with cancer."
According to the Susan G Komen for the Cure Web site, social support is the emotional support, practical help, advice and other benefits that you get from interactions with people. Keep reading for 10 ideas to help you build social support for your loved one.
When tragedy strikes, everyone wants to help, but without a specific offer, it's unlikely the patient will actually reach out for help. "Make your offers as specific as possible; babysitting, cooking, taking walks with the patient after surgery, helping with particular errands," Greenstein explained. "The less specific you are, the more you're making the patient do extra work in thinking of ways you can help."
Another important job you can help with? Offer to become her spokesperson. "Send out weekly e-mails to friends, family and supporters, letting them know how the patient is doing and what ways they can help," suggested Marybeth Maida, breast cancer survivor and author of Beauty Pearls for Chemo Girls.
Simply being a friend makes all the difference when helping people dealing with cancer. "Friends asked if I was interested in talking to their friends who'd had breast cancer, which I was, and it was an invaluable part of my coping," Greenstein said.
This goes for spouses, too. Greenstein points out that her husband came with her to every appointment. He also did his homework. "He used Breast Cancer Husband by Marc Silver as his bible, so he wouldn't need me to explain everything that was happening."
When it comes to coping, there's no 'right' or 'wrong' way. "We all cope differently, there's no one size fits all," Greenstein said. "Everyone has his or her own style."
Greenstein explains that we need to learn to appreciate each other's coping styles, unless we notice a friend in such great denial that she's refusing treatment.
According to Maida, it's best if friends and family avoid dispensing medical advice. "Also, avoid sharing horror stories or barraging the patient with constant phone calls."
So often, we worry about what to say, but as Maida points out, sometimes the best answer is nothing at all. "Instead of talking, try to listen. Let her lead the conversation. Let her know you're ready to hear whatever she has to say, and take your cues as to where to go with the conversation from what she tells you," she said.
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