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I will forever remember when my dad was diagnosed with cancer. I found out September 2012 that my dad had kidney cancer. Most people don’t realize what this process is like for people. You go in to the doctor because something is wrong or for a routine scan, it is followed up by a number of other appointments and people tell you not to worry, but these are the next steps you need to take. Then, ka-blamo, you find out the C word is real. It all happens so rapidly that you really don’t have any time to prepare.
I have worked with clients to try and help them adjust to life during and after cancer but there is nothing like when it happens to you or your loved one. Your life becomes a series of statistics, doctors appointments, medical bills, and side effects. It’s hard to imagine anything else that makes you feel so out of control. That’s my opinion at least.
Tips for supporting people with cancer:
- It is scary for everyone involved. Most people want to hide this fact or not talk about their feelings. This is the opposite of what you should do. Cry about it. Talk to the person affected and see how they are doing. Look for support groups that can help you and your family member. Livestrong has a wonderful service that connects people all over to support services for a myriad of things (insurance challenges, clinical trials, emotional support, etc.) If you are in Austin, you can ask Livestrong about Flatwater Foundation which provides free counseling services to those affected by cancer.
- Don’t avoid the elephant in the room. People are so worried about being a burden on those affected by cancer that they will often try to act as if everything is normal. Check in with that person. See how they are truly doing. Ask them what is the most helpful thing you can do. It may be to check in during that moment, or it may be to laugh about something funny on youtube. There are also some very powerful blogs that detail the struggle of life with cancer.
- Find doctors and nurses that you believe in. Your medical providers become part of your care team, so find people that you trust and believe in. This will help everyone involved feel more confident and supported. A good sign is someone who takes the time to answer all of your questions.
- After treatment is over, don’t try to rush them back to normal. After facing our own mortality, people often change. Sometimes they will want to pursue things that were different than they did before. They may want a vacation they had dreamed about while in treatment. Give them that space to find that. I also encourage them to go through counseling to process these changes as it often brings up a lot of secondary anxiety as people worry it may come back. It also helps to process everything that has happened as most people are in survival mode during treatment.
- Their life will change. Meaning in life can change when confronted with death. Friendships will shift as some some blossom and others may fade. This has less to do with you and more to do with them, which is often confusing for people going through it. Afterwards is a time to reflect on what you want the post cancer part of your life to mean. Some people will think you are a hero for “beating cancer.” What do you want it to mean?
I hope this information is helpful to you. I learned these things from clients and my experience with my father. My dad is a cancer survivor and I feel very lucky to say this.