Family and friends are an important source of support for any person living with cancer. However, for many people the question ‘How are you?’ can be difficult to answer and cause additional stress.
The following section is an excerpt from the Star Throwers Guide to Cancer book on managing communication with family and friends:
A recent study found that ‘managing communication around cancer diagnosis gives patients a sense of control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation’. The researchers found that:
…communication is an important factor in coping with cancer in that it enables people to exert control during a highly stressful and turbulent time. However, despite best efforts to structure and control that communication, cancer patients cannot always predict or control other people’s reaction.
In our experience the need to communicate with friends and family can simply became exhausting. Particularly when you’ve just had bad news, the need to relay it multiple times just makes you feel worse. The constant repetition of bad news is depressing, especially when you know that the person on the other end is going to react badly to it too. It means that not only do you have to deal with your own reactions, but you end up having to manage other people too. It increases the stress precisely when you’re most stressed out.
Of course the person on the other end of the line isn’t deliberately adding to the pressure. They are concerned and mostly want to help in some way, possibly by giving you a shoulder to cry on. What they often don’t realise is that they are not the only people calling, and that sometimes you need the space to think and absorb news (good or bad). Receiving a concerned phone call as soon as you’ve had a difficult meeting with your oncologist or other doctor is especially exhausting. When you’re uncertain how to feel after receiving scan results, or a new disease staging or diagnosis, having to relay the news is simply hard to do.
In the end one way to solve the problem, at least to a certain extent, is by nominating one or two people as the key points of contact and communicating with everyone else through them. That way you can impose some control over the situation. It means that you have time and space to absorb news, to think about things, to focus your energies where you need them focused. When you have something to report you just relay it once or twice and then let the news filter out to the wider community of friends and family without you being directly involved unless you want to be.
An alternative approach is to use a blog, Facebook or other social network to communicate to friends and family alike (Star Throwers can help you set up a blog or facebook page). Not only is this a good way to issue updates, it’s also a good way to get support and advice. This is particularly the case when you can become part of an online community of people going through the same thing – for example online support groups for breast cancer or people undergoing the same treatment.
Finally, it is important to mention that while this cancer journey is new to you and your family, there are lots of other people going through the same journey and coming up against the same issues. Fortunately there are many ways to gain additional support and advice, from national organisations like Macmillan Cancer Support or CLIC Sargent, to local support organisations like Star Throwers to online forums and patient-support groups specific to different cancers. The support is out there to be accessed – there is no need to suffer loneliness and isolation in addition to the rigours of being a cancer patient or a carer. It is not weakness to seek support, especially at a difficult time like this.