Finding Social Support During Cancer Treatment

By

Susan Fishman

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When you’re in the middle of cancer treatment, finding the right person or group for support is one of the most helpful things you can do to take care of yourself. Studies show that having social support can help cancer patients adjust better to life during and after treatment, improving mood, stress, anxiety, self-image and even the experience of pain. One cancer study found that women with social connections had fewer physical limitations and were better able to perform daily activities than those who were socially isolated. And research shows that men report fewer depressive symptoms and cancer-related thoughts when they have social support.

Even if you’re not ready to connect with others at this point in your treatment, knowing you have someone to turn to when you need it can help you feel better prepared and offer some relief. 

Where to Turn for Support

Find a group. There is a variety of support groups available for people with cancer through your hospital, treatment center, community or religious organization. You can join a general cancer group, or find one that’s disease or age specific. There are even groups for caregivers of cancer patients. These groups may be led by a trained counselor or psychologist, or by a professional facilitator. Finding the right one may take some time, so try out a few and see what feels best for you. Your doctor, nurse or hospital social worker can point you to support groups in your area if you’re having trouble identifying the right one.

Lean on family and friends. Even the most supportive loved ones can’t understand exactly what you’re going through, but their encouragement and love can be crucial in this challenging time. They can help you in practical ways, by assisting with day-to-day activities, giving you rides to treatment, or keeping things running smoothly at home, but they can also provide emotional support and a shoulder to cry on. Your loved ones want to help, so don’t be afraid to ask for it—give them the gift of being able to show you how much they care for you. They may not know what to say, but a good listener is critical when you are feeling worried, anxious or overwhelmed.

Find someone to talk to. Some people are more comfortable talking with someone one-on-one than sharing in a group setting. And you may find it easier to talk about personal aspects of your condition with someone who is not a friend or family member. If this is more appealing to you, ask your doctor or hospital about working with a medical social worker. You can also reach out to a counselor or clergy member for moral support and guidance.

Talk to someone who’s been through it.
Often there is no better confidante than someone who is in the same boat as you. Another person going through cancer treatment can relate to your hopes and fears and also offer great insight and advice on the practical aspects of treatment. Talk to your local hospital or community organizations about connecting to other cancer patients with similar experiences. You may want to develop a relationship with someone who’s currently receiving treatment, or with someone who’s in remission. Either way, he or she can offer emotional support and share more resources with you.

Get connected. The Internet is a valuable resource for people with cancer and can provide a group dynamic for those who may not be ready to meet with a group in person. Social media sites like Facebook offer a great way to connect and share with other cancer patients. Discussion groups and message boards allow you to post a message for others to reply to. You can also chat with others in real time by using chat rooms. To find one, search reputable cancer organizations, such as the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, for online support groups. You may also want to search for a list of groups by your specific disease type.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jul 7, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Cancer Coping and Support. Mayo Clinic. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/cancer/basics/coping-support/con-20032378
  2. How young adult cancer patients can find social support. MD Anderson Cancer Center. https://www.mdanderson.org/publications/cancerwise/2015/01/how-young-adult-cancer-patients-can-find-social-support.html
  3. Benefits of Social Support. Susan G. Komen. http://ww5.komen.org/BreastCancer/BenefitsofSocialSupport.html
  4. Importance of Social Support in Cancer Patients. Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention. 2012;13(8):3569-72. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23098436
  5. Unmitigated agency, social support and psychological adjustment in men with cancer. US National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21395588

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