How to Support Someone You Love Who Has Cancer
O ne of my best friends died of breast cancer when she was just 26 years old. Her doctors didn’t run the right tests, and cancer didn’t even cross their minds because she was so young. More recently, my sister was diagnosed with Stage 3B breast cancer. April is National Cancer Control Month, and in honor of my friend, my sister, and all my patients who I have seen struggle with cancer, I want to share some of the lessons I’ve learned about how to support someone you love when they’re going through a cancer diagnosis and Western medical treatment.
but eventually, people got burned out. Sometimes people have a hard time supporting even their best friends, because they don’t knowwhat to do. But if cancer has taught me anything, it is that when somebody you love gets hit with cancer, you keep calling. A lot of times, when people are going through cancer treatment, they say they don’t need help, but the truth is that they do. Maybe they are tired of asking for help. They are so uncomfortable physically and emotionally that they can barely manage to get through the day. When even something like doing the dishes becomes monumental, it is hard and can be frustrating when they are used to being so independent, such as my sister. When my sister was sick, the thing that pulled her through was socializing. She reconnected with friends she had made throughout her entire lifetime and found support from people she hadn’t heard from in a long time. One year out, socializing is still her key to feeling happy and taking her mind off of things. We are making advances and improvements with cancer treatments. The prognosis for certain types of cancer is much better today than it was even 10 years ago. Today, if you’re diagnosed with certain types of cancer, you can still go on to live a long and full life. And there are clinical trials for a cure for cancer going on right now. Funding for cancer research is at an all-time high, and cancer screenings are very effective when done early. In honor of National Cancer Control Month, get your screenings. Early detection is the No. 1 most important way to improve the outcome of just about any cancer diagnosis. If you know somebody who is going through cancer, remember the best thing you can do for them is to show up and keep showing up. They may be tired of asking, but they need you.
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When my sister got sick, the hardest thing about it was being long distance and not being able to support her as much as I wanted to. When I did go out to visit her in Philadelphia, I had to figure out how to just be there as her sister, not her provider. At Dova Center, we offer a number of cancer support therapies, and I knew there were ways I could complement my sister’s treatments. I had three different acupuncturists lined up that could have helped her, but alternative therapies are not in my sister’s picture, and she wasn’t interested. That was hard for me. I had to learn to focus on showing up for her the way she needed me to, which was as her sister, not as her provider. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 1.8 million Americans were diagnosed with cancer in 2019. If you haven’t been touched by cancer yet, you might be under the impression that once you’re done with treatments, you’re done. But oftentimes — and this is the case for many of my patients — cancer survivors don’t go back to work right away. They’re dealing with things like neuropathy (numbness of the leg or whole body), depression, pain, and brain fog. And unless you’re a primary provider, a family member, or a very close friend, you probably have no idea what that person is really going through. One year out from stopping chemotherapy, my sister still struggles with concentration. She has neuropathy, and she still carries a lot of pain from her chemotherapy. When she got sick, all her friends were on board to support her,
“If you know somebody who is going through cancer, remember the best thing you can do for them is to show
up and keep showing up.”
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