The Ripple effect of Cancer.

by rodney on June 24, 2012

Being diagnosed with cancer is one of the most devastating experiences a person can have. Naturally, everyone rallies around the cancer patient and offers them support and compassion as they navigate their way through extreme emotions and physical sickness, hoping to make a recovery.

But with the focus on the cancer patient the needs of the supporters- family and friends- often get over looked. Their needs are sometimes deemed not as important as they are not the ones with the life threatening illness. A cancer diagnoses does not just affect the patient, it also affects those around them, then in turn, those around them. The grief spread like ripples across a lake and grow into huge waves of emotion that overwhelm supporters and can cause isolation and burnout.

This is something I unfortunately know too much about. Six months ago, My Mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was given two years to live if she was lucky. This began a process that the rest of my family and my Mums large group of close friends began, preparing for her to die.  She saw an oncologist who started chemotherapy for her which in itself is a difficult experience for all of us to support her through. She has lost all her hair, including her eyebrows and eyelashes, she is incredibly tired, becomes physically sick and is prone to falling due to numbness in her feet caused by the chemo. She also, at times, becomes depressed over the loss of her “normal” life. On a positive side, as of writing, she is doing remarkably well and is expected to make a recovery.

This demonstrates the roller coaster my life has been in just those quick six months. Emotionally it has been up and down constantly from extreme highs and bottomless lows. This has had an effect on my work life; I went through a period of being unable to fully focus and could only do certain tasks. Also, I don’t have the energy and mental capacity to do activities and hobbies that add value to my life. These are things that a lot of people don’t see. When I see people, nearly everyone asks how my Mum is doing, but only a small number then ask how I am doing.

To those of you who maybe supporting people living with cancer, I’m going to share with you three major tips you can use to ensure you can look after yourselves  and avoid the overwhelming wave of emotion that is headed your way:

1.            Make sure that the patient has a large support network around them. My Mum has lots of people all around her who can help her do different things. My role is to provide emotional support and to talk to her when she becomes depressed or upset. My Brother can drive her to where she needs to go, her friends can support her when she begins to cry and talk about things that are inappropriate for me to hear. Having this support network around takes the pressure off you being the be all and end all for the patient.

2.            Have firm boundaries in place around what you are able to do and what you’re comfortable doing and communicate these to the patient.  I have explained to my Mum, in a respectful way that seeing her without a hat and seeing her cry makes me uncomfortable. If I’m uncomfortable, then I can’t effectively support her. Knowing this, she knows who she can turn to when she needs to cry, and she wears a hat around me.  Other boundaries you may need to consider could be around what needs to happen when the patient can no longer care for themselves. Having clear boundaries ensures you don’t take on responsibilities that you can’t or unable to do, and can find the appropriate resource that can. This will provide better care to the patient.

3.            Look after yourself. Health wise, remember to eat well, get enough sleep and some exercise. Emotionally consider finding a Counsellor to talk to while you’re going through this journey.  During these sessions you are able to explore the emotions you are experiencing and find the resources you need to keep yourself well.

If you are supporting someone with cancer please realise that you too are experiencing grief and also need support during this difficult time. If you know someone who is supporting someone living with cancer, please realise cancer does not just affect the patient, it is affecting many more people as well.

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