Managing Cancer

Cancer is a tough turn in the road of life that many people will face for themselves or a loved one. In fact, 1 out of 2 men and one out of three women will be diagnosed with an invasive cancer in their lifetime (American Cancer Society, Cancer Fact and Figures, 2014).

Every day, we read about the medical advances in cancer. But rarely, do we hear about the psychological advances in managing cancer. If you have cancer, or if you are reading this and thinking about a loved one with cancer, there are many actions that you can take to make it easier to manage the cancer experience. Developing a “buddy system” or a personal support community will address the patient’s needs so they can focus on treatment. A buddy system consists of a partner, friends, family and community who can help the patient manage stressful concerns about practical problems. Examples of such problems can include concerns about children, food and household needs, transportation dilemmas and work management issues.

Let me walk you through an example. Jane, age 38, has been diagnosed with breast cancer and will need chemotherapy and surgery. As the news spreads, Jane gets calls from family and friends. “How can I help?” they ask. Jane feels cared about but none of these calls have really helped her worries. Now imagine that Jane or her partner or friend has thought this through and has a number of suggestions. Her friend says “How can I help?” and Jane might now say “Well, I know you walk your dog every morning. Are you able to walk my dog at the same time? How often can you do this? For how long?” Or, Jane might say “Suzy and Johnny, my kids, need a 9:00 a.m. school drop off. But that is the same time as my chemotherapy appointment. Do you think you could drop the kids at school next Thursday?” Or, “You have such a flair with fashion. I know I should go wig shopping but don’t want to go by myself. Will you come with me?”

So often loved ones want to help the person with cancer, but are unsure what to do. And frequently the person with cancer wants help but is uncertain what to ask for. When you form a buddy system, you address the concrete tasks needed by the patient and identify the individuals in the community who can help manage these tasks. In other words, you can answer the question “How Can I Help?”

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