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When a loved one is newly diagnosed with cancer it not only affects the patient, but those around them. Caregivers are often also faced with learning to “live with cancer” while managing a stressful situation.
While no one’s future is ever guaranteed, numerous studies do show people in a crisis do better emotionally with strong support from family and friends.
But knowing what to say — or not say — or how to best help your loved one can be a tricky proposition.
Here are a few tips to help you be as supportive as possible:
Take a deep breath. Give yourself and your loved one time to adjust to the diagnosis. Recognize each of you will deal with the situation in your own way.
Giving care to a love one with cancer requires a great deal of flexibility, patience, courage and a good sense of humor. But it’s okay to experience emotions about your loved one’s situation.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, confide in a friend or counselor to provide insight and support. Your cancer center may have a social worker ready to help.
Be a good listener. This can be challenging because it is natural for most people to go into “cheerleader” mode when a loved one faces a life-threatening illness. Your ability to listen without judging or brushing over the person's feelings is probably one of the most significant contributions you can make to his or her wellbeing.
Be informed. No one expects you to be an expert about your loved one’s cancer, but the more you know, the better you will be able to contribute to his or her care and treatment. Start by being an active participant during clinic visits and keep a notebook of questions to ask the doctor, specific medical directions and to document any treatment side effects, as this information may be overwhelming for the patient.
As a caregiver, educating yourself by researching the diagnosis, treatment options and clinical trials that might be available is helpful, but giving medical advice to the patient isn’t. Refrain from saying, “You ought to try this,” or “Do that”.