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Support for cancer patientsEven though your needs are greater when you have cancer, it can be hard to ask for help to meet those needs.

To get the help you need, think about turning to:

No one needs to face cancer alone. When people with cancer seek and receive help from others, they often find it easier to cope with their condition.

You may find it hard to ask for or accept help. After all, you are used to taking care of yourself. Maybe you think that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Or perhaps you do not want to let others know that some things are hard for you to do. All these feelings are normal

People feel good when they help others. Your friends may not know what to say or how to act when they are with you. Some people may even avoid you. But they may feel more at ease when you ask them to cook a meal or pick up your children after school. There are many ways that family, friends, other people who have cancer, spiritual or religious leaders, and health care providers can help. In turn, there are also ways you can help and support your caregivers.

Family and Friends

Family and friends can support you in many ways. But, they may wait for you to give them hints or ideas about what to do.

Someone who is not sure if you want company may call "just to see how things are going." When someone says, "Let me know if there is anything I can do," tell this person if you need help with an errand or a ride to the doctor’s office.

Family members and friends can also:

  • Keep you company, give you a hug, or hold your hand
  • Listen as you talk about your hopes and fears
  • Help with rides, meals, errands, or household chores
  • Go with you to doctor’s visits or treatment sessions
  • Tell other friends and family members ways they can help

Other People Who Have Cancer

Even though your family and friends help, you may also want to meet people who have cancer now or have had it in the past. Often, you can talk with them about things you can’t discuss with others.

People with cancer understand how you feel and can:

  • Talk with you about what to expect
  • Tell you how they cope with cancer and live a normal life
  • Help you learn ways to enjoy each day
  • Give you hope for the future

Let your doctor or nurse know that you want to meet other people with cancer. You can also meet other people with cancer in the hospital, at your doctor’s office, or through a cancer support group.

Support Groups

Cancer support groups are meetings for people with cancer and those touched by cancer. These groups allow you and your loved ones to talk with others facing the same problems. Support groups often have a lecture as well as time to talk. Almost all groups have a leader who runs the meeting. The leader can be someone with cancer or a trained counselor.

You may think that a support group is not right for you. Maybe you think that a group won’t help or that you don’t want to talk with others about your feelings. Or perhaps you are afraid that the meetings will make you sad or depressed.

It may be good to know that many people find support groups very helpful.

People in the groups often:

  • Talk about what it’s like to have cancer
  • Help each other feel better, more hopeful, and not so alone
  • Learn about what’s new in cancer treatment
  • Share tips about ways to cope with cancer

Types of Support Groups

  1. Some groups focus on all kinds of cancer. Others talk about just one kind, such as a group for women with breast cancer or a group for men with prostate cancer.
  2. Groups can be open to everyone or just for people of a certain age, sex, culture, or religion. For instance, some groups are just for teens or young children.
  3. Some groups talk about all aspects of cancer. Others focus on only one or two topics such as treatment choices or self-esteem.
  4. Therapy groups focus on feelings such as sadness and grief. Mental Health professionals often lead these types of groups.
  5. In some groups, people with cancer meet in one support group and their loved ones meet in another. This way, people can say what they really think and feel and not worry about hurting someone’s feelings.
  6. In other groups, patients and families meet together. People often find that meeting in these groups is a good way for each to learn what the other is going through.
  7. Online support groups are "meetings" that take place by computer. People meet through chat rooms, listservs, or moderated discussion groups and talk with each other over e-mail. People often like online support groups because they can take part in them any time of the day or night. They’re also good for people who can’t travel to meetings. The biggest problem with online groups is that you can’t be sure if what you learn is correct.

Always talk with your doctor about cancer information you learn from the Internet.

If you have a choice of support groups, visit a few and see what they are like. See which ones make sense for you. Although many groups are free, some charge a small fee. Find out if your health insurance pays for support groups.

Where to Find a Support Group

Many hospitals, cancer centers, community groups, and schools offer cancer support groups.

Here are some ways to find groups near you:

  • Call your local hospital and ask about its cancer support programs.
  • Look in the health section of your local newspaper for a listing of cancer support groups.

Spiritual Help

Spirituality means the way you look at the world and make sense of your place in it. Spirituality can include faith or religion, beliefs, values, and "reasons for being."

Most people are spiritual in some way, whether or not they go to a church, temple, or mosque.

Cancer can affect people’s spirituality. Some people find that cancer brings a new or deeper meaning to their faith. Others feel that their faith has let them down. For example, you may:

  • Struggle to understand why you have cancer
  • Wonder about life’s purpose and how cancer fits in the "fabric of life"
  • Question your relationship with God

Many people find that their faith is a source of comfort. They find they can cope better with cancer when they pray, read religious books, meditate, or talk with members of their spiritual community.

Many people also find that cancer changes their values. The things you own and your daily duties may seem less important. You may decide to spend more time with loved ones, helping others, doing things in the outdoors, or learning about something new.

People in Health Care

Most cancer patients have a treatment team of health providers who work together to help them. This team may include doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, dietitians, and other people in health care. Chances are that you will never see all these people at the same time. In fact, there may be health providers on your team who you never meet.

1. Doctors

Most people with cancer have two or more doctors. Chances are, you will see one doctor most often. This person is the leader of your team. He or she not only meets with you but also works with all the other people on your treatment team.
Make sure to let your doctor know how you are feeling. Tell him or her when you feel sick, are depressed, or in pain.

When your doctor knows how you feel, he or she can:

  • Figure out if you are getting better or worse
  • Decide if you need other drugs or treatments
  • Help you get the extra support you need

Ask your doctor how often he or she will see you, when you will have tests, and how long before you know if the treatment is working.

2. Nurses

Most likely, you will see nurses more often than other people on your treatment team. If you are in the hospital, nurses will check in on you many times a day. If you are at home, visiting nurses may come to your house and help with your treatment and care. Nurses also work in clinics and doctor offices.

You can talk with nurses about your day-to-day concerns. They can tell you what to expect, such as if a certain drug is likely to make you feel sick. You can also talk with nurses about what worries you. They can offer hope, support, and suggest ways to talk with family and friends about your feelings.

Nurses work with all the other health providers on your treatment team. Let them know if you need or want more help.

3. Pharmacists

Pharmacists not only fill prescriptions but also can teach you about the drugs you are taking.

They can help you by:

  • Talking with you about how your drugs work
  • Telling you how often to take your drugs
  • Teaching you about side effects and how to deal with them
  • Warning you about the danger of mixing drugs together
  • Letting you know about foods you shouldn’t eat or things you shouldn’t do, like being in the sun for too long

4. Dietitians

People with cancer often have trouble eating or digesting food. Eating problems can be a side effect from cancer drugs or treatments. They can also happen when people are so upset that they lose their appetite and don’t feel like eating.

Dietitians can help by teaching you about foods that are healthy, taste good, and are easy to eat. They can also suggest ways to make eating easier, such as using plastic forks or spoons so food doesn’t taste like metal when you are having chemo. Ask your doctor or nurse to refer you to a dietitian who knows about the special needs of cancer patients.

5. Social Workers

Social workers assist patients and families with meeting their daily needs such as:

  • Finding support groups near where you live
  • Dealing with money matters, like paying the bills
  • Talking about your cancer with your boss
  • Filling out paperwork, such as advance directives or living wills
  • Talking about your cancer with your family and other loved ones
  • Dealing with your feelings such as depression, sadness, or grief
  • Coping with stress and learning new ways to relax
  • Learning about health insurance, such as what your policy covers and what it does not
  • Finding rides to the hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office
  • Setting up visits from home health nurses

6. Patient Educators

Patient or health educators can help you learn more about your cancer. They can find information that fits your needs. Patient educators are also experts in explaining things that may be hard to understand. Many hospitals and treatment centers have resource centers run by health educators. These centers contain books, videos, computers, and other tools to help you and your family. These tools can help you understand your type of cancer, your treatment choices, side effects, and tips for living with and beyond your cancer. Ask your doctor or nurse about talking to a patient educator.

7. Psychologists

Most people are very upset when they face a serious illness such as cancer. Psychologists can help by talking with you and your family about your worries. They can not only help you figure out what upsets you but also teach you ways to cope with these feelings and concerns.

Let your doctor or nurse know if you want to talk with a psychologist who is trained to help people with cancer.

8. Psychiatrists

Sometimes people with cancer are depressed or have other psychiatric (mental health) disorders. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who can prescribe drugs for these disorders. They can also talk with you about your feelings and help you find the mental health services you need.

Licensed counselors, pastoral care professionals, spiritual leaders, nurse practitioners, and other mental health professionals also help people deal with their feelings, worries, and concerns.

For instance, they can:

  • Help you talk about feelings such as stress, depression, or grief
  • Lead support groups and therapy sessions
  • Act as a "go-between," such as with your child’s school or your boss at work
  • Refer you to other health providers and services near where you live

Talk with your doctor or contact your local cancer center to find mental health professionals near you.

People in the Hospital

Many hospitals have people on staff to help make your stay a little easier.

  1. Patient advocates can help when you have a problem or concern that you don’t feel you can discuss with your doctor, nurse, or social worker. They can act as a bridge between you and your health care team.
  2. Discharge planners work with you and your family to help you get ready to leave the hospital. The discharge planner helps with tasks like making follow-up appointments and making sure you have things you need at home.
  3. Volunteers often visit with patients in the hospital and offer comfort and support. They may also bring books, puzzles, or other things to do. Many volunteers have had cancer themselves. Let a hospital staff member know if you want to meet with a volunteer.


Caregivers are the people who help with your daily tasks such as bathing, getting dressed, or eating. Caregivers are often family members or close friends. Just like you, your caregivers need help and support.

Ways to help your caregiver include:

  • Building a team of caregivers so you do not have to depend on just one person
  • Keeping your caregivers about your treatment and care so they know what to do in case of an emergency.
  • Finding extra help. Many towns have community volunteers. These people offer help to others near where they live or work.
  • Doing what you can to help your caregiver. Cancer and its treatment are hard on everyone, even the people who take care of you. Encourage your caregivers to take time off so they can do errands, enjoy hobbies, or simply have a rest.
  • Showing your caregiver that you care and to say "thank you." Let your caregivers know that you value their help, support, and love.

Source: National Cancer Institute

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