Bewilderment. Confusion. And perhaps most of all, fear. All of these feelings can overwhelm a cancer patient, especially during a pandemic. Social distancing measures can also bring a certain kind of lonely fear.
Asking for help is an act of courage in itself. For some patients, it means showing vulnerability during a time when they want to be strong for themselves and those around them. The truth is cancer patients almost always benefit from seeking and accepting support. And, it’s natural for the people around them to want to help – but it’s also sometimes a challenge to know exactly how to provide the right support. Following are considerations for patients reaching out for assistance and their loved ones supporting them.
The first step in overcoming fear is communication. For patients, communicating early and often with care teams and loved ones allows for honest dialogue around fears that helps overcome them. If you know someone with cancer, you can positively impact their experience by speaking from the heart and simply showing that you’re willing to listen if they need to talk.
Common concerns among patients are the fear of burdening others and asking for help. The response from loved ones is almost always that they want to provide this much-needed support. It’s important to be specific about the type of support they can provide – whether it’s helping clean or cook meals, providing transportation to and from appointments, or listening and being a source of emotional support. Everyone has different ways of facing their fears, but many patients and their loved ones cope best with all that cancer involves when they face it together.
It’s true that every patient’s cancer journey is unique. But cancer patients also share a common and profound life experience. That’s why support groups that allow patients to share with those who also have been through it are helpful. In lieu of in-person meetings, online communities and virtual support groups are bringing patients together to address cancer-related concerns.
Texas Oncology provides resources on support services and will be launching social worker-led virtual support groups for patients this summer with plans to expand programming for caregivers later this year. Additional resources are available through the American Cancer Society and National Cancer Institute. Patients can also talk to their cancer care team about getting connected to the right resources for themselves and their families, including organizations that are offering virtual services.
There is nothing to fear when it comes to seeking and accepting the support of others. Whether it’s through cancer care teams, loved ones, or the local community – leaning on others can greatly enrich a patient’s cancer journey. At Texas Oncology, we work tirelessly to ensure our patients never face cancer on their own, especially during unprecedented times. Ensuring each patient is supported is a part of our commitment to caring for the whole patient.
Jane Chawla, M.D., is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Austin Central, 6204 Balcones Dr. in Austin, Texas. For more information, visit TexasOncology.com.