The Beacon March FY23


Everyone experiences cancer differently, both psychologically and physically. The amount and type of support you need or want can depend on your individual needs

 Dr Charlotte Tottman

S upport after a breast cancer diagnosis can mean different things to different people. The Beacon spoke with Clinical Psychologist Dr Charlotte Tottman to find out what type of support individuals may need and how the people around them can provide it. What is support and what does it look like in a breast cancer experience? Generally, people need practical support such as help with one-off or day-to-day tasks, as well as emotional and psychological support. This can include providing a sense of understanding, compassion and/or empathy. They will likely need the support of someone they can trust, confide in and be vulnerable with. People diagnosed with breast cancer often also need other kinds of support, such as financial support. This can be because of the cost of the treatment itself, loss of income, underinsurance or other circumstances. Why is support different for everyone? Everyone experiences cancer differently, both psychologically and physically. The amount and type of support you need or want

What advice do you have for supporters of someone with breast cancer? My advice for supporters can be summed up as: • listen, listen, listen • don’t assume • keep checking in. What you can see is not necessarily all that’s going on. For example, if someone is starting to look a bit more like their old self, there is often more going on for them than you may realise. Keep checking in, ask how they really are and take the time to sit with them and listen. One question you might like to think twice about asking is if

Consider if there is a specific type of support you can offer, based on your skills. For example, a friend of one of my clients was very good at paperwork. They offered to help my client with her medical insurance paperwork. It relieved a lot of stress and had a very meaningful, financial benefit because my client’s income protection insurance started as soon as possible. There are plenty of skill sets within people’s networks that can be well utilised. Remember, cancer is not a quick- fix situation. Supporters can disappear over time, so try to stay in touch and adapt your support to the changing needs of your friend or loved one.

there is anything you can do. While your intention is good, this question often unwittingly creates additional pressure for the person going through cancer, because they may feel like they have to identify and specify a task for you to do. If you know the person well, try instead to anticipate what they may need and suggest specific options. For example, ask if it would be helpful if you organised takeaway on a Friday night, mowed their lawn on Sunday morning, or picked up the kids from school on Tuesday afternoons. This way, you’ve done the heavy lifting for them in generating the options, and also come up with ideas that you’re willing and able to do.

can depend on your individual needs, as well as how much support you’re prepared to ask for and/or accept. It may also depend on who you are as a person. You may have overcome previous adversities and built up some resilience. Or, you may feel completely overwhelmed by your diagnosis and treatment and need more support. Some people have an easier run of it. Perhaps they experience fewer side effects or find they don’t need to step back from their day-to-day life as much as others. Some end up in hospital or have a very protracted cancer treatment. People living with metastatic disease experience cancer as part of their everyday normal life. It’s so varied. The most important thing to remember is there’s no right or wrong here. It’s more about doing what is right for you. It can be helpful to reflect on your willingness to be vulnerable and to prioritise and care for yourself. Likewise, the people around you may need to reflect on what support they’re willing and able to provide. What can be helpful if you feel disappointed about the support you’ve received? The first thing to realise is your feeling of disappointment is

incredibly common. I haven’t met a client yet who hasn’t, at some point, felt disappointed or let down by a loved one or a friend or a colleague. This means it’s often not really about you, but rather it’s part of the general cancer experience. I think there are two ways to manage disappointment. If it’s a single event, it can be helpful to talk with the person who has disappointed you and let them know specifically what you need from them. You may have to make a judgement call on whether this approach is right for you and your situation. If a pattern has emerged where someone has consistently not been there in the way you need, consider whether they are a good fit for you right now. You may choose to manage the relationship a bit differently. Perhaps reduce the frequency, duration or dynamics of your interactions, such as catching up with a group of people, rather than one on one. Whatever you decide to do, I recommend approaching it in a de-escalating way and gently

SEASON 2 OF WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW UNTIL YOU DO IS COMING SOON! Following on from the success of season 1 of What You Don’t Know Until You Do with Dr Charlotte Tottman , in which Charlotte talks about her lived experience of breast cancer over 10 insightful episodes, we’re excited to be back in your ears with season 2 in April, thanks to our Major Partner Sussan. This season will focus on Charlotte’s clinical experience and will explore topics such as navigating relationships with your treating team, managing behavioural changes and the importance of setting boundaries for self-care. The podcast will be available via BCNA’s Upfront About Breast Cancer website , SoundCloud, Apple podcasts and Spotify.

changing the nature and the dynamic of the relationship.



March 2023 | Issue 94

Breast Cancer Network Australia

Issue 94 | March 2023

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