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How to help a loved one cope with cancer

Here’s how you can help a loved one cope with cancer while finding your own emotional support during this time.

When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it can feel like the rug has been swept out under your feet. 

Not only are you trying to provide support to your friend or family member who’s been diagnosed, but you’re also carrying the weight of your own grief. 

It’s hard enough to find the right words to comfort your loved one. But balancing this with finding comfort for your own fear and sadness can lead to one thing: an overwhelming situation.

Here are some tips to help a loved one cope with cancer while finding your own emotional support during this difficult time.

Be a listener

Chances are, after a diagnosis, your loved one is getting advice, condolences and “cheerleading” from all sides.

But what they may really need is for someone to just sit with them and listen without giving any input.

Your loved one is probably experiencing a whirlwind of emotion. It’s valuable to provide them with an open ear for their feelings and experiences, without offering judgement or guidance.

So be sure to listen, and try to only give advice when asked. They’ll appreciate that.

Education is power

Your loved one who is dealing with cancer is probably overwhelmed with the news of their diagnosis. From the potential effects of their illness to treatment options, there’s a lot of information for them to digest while it feels like their world’s been turned upside down.

But you can help them navigate this difficult time by researching their diagnosis, clinical trials, and treatment options to better understand their situation.

CancerCare.org and cancer.gov are well-known organizations with educational resources that can help you learn about different cancer treatments, side effects and more.

It can bring you comfort to understand details about your loved one’s diagnosis or treatment options. Knowledge about the illness and their care options can help you and your loved one reduce the fear of the unknown. 

Not only that, but your loved one may be able to make a more educated decision on their treatment options with the information you help them uncover.

Accept your loved one’s decisions

You love your friend or family member, and likely want to protect them from possible outcomes of their cancer or treatment options.

But it’s important to support your loved one’s decision when it comes to their treatment decision. 

Whether they decide to try a holistic approach, chemotherapy, or forgo treatment entirely, the decision is up them. Be supportive and accept that cancer is their illness to deal with on their own terms.

If you’re having a difficult time accepting your loved one’s treatment decisions, reach out and find your own emotional support from friends, family members, a support group or a grief counselor. 

Your grief during this time deserves its own support and attention, so be sure to find the emotional support you need to heal and keep moving forward.

Prioritize normalcy

Your instinct may be to find any way possible to do things for your loved one with cancer. From cooking to cleaning to driving them to appointments, helping them may help you not feel so hopeless in the face of their diagnosis.

And although providing helpful tasks can help your loved one from feeling vulnerable or needy, they may crave a sense of normalcy, too. 

For some people with cancer, doing things like cooking dinner, raking the lawn or going to work can help them not feel like their illness is taking over their lives.

If your loved one wants to stick to your age-old routine of lunch dates on Friday or nature walks on Sunday, show up for them like you did before their diagnosis. 

You can still offer to help with things like laundry, housework or cooking, but respect your loved one’s decision to handle these things themselves. It may keep their mood lifted and help them feel empowered throughout their illness.

Prioritize self-care

Helping a diagnosed loved one with emotional support throughout their illness can take a lot of emotional energy. 

That’s why it’s so important to have your own emotional support system to provide nurturing while you deal with your grief.

It might be hard to stay connected with friends and family during this time. You may feel isolated or alone in your difficult position.

But letting your loved ones in is important for your own emotional wellbeing. You may need to share your feelings with a trusted friend to find a sense of release from your stress or grief. Other days you may just want to veg out on the couch and binge watch your favorite show.

Be sure you’re taking time to get the emotional support you need so you can keep being a strong emotional support for your loved one with cancer.

Stay involved

The best way to support your loved one with cancer is to take care of your own wellbeing so you can continue to be a source of love and support for them.

Try to stay involved in school, work, and other side passions that you enjoy.

Don’t be afraid to still prioritize exercise, work, and socializing while you provide support to your loved one. This can help you keep your head above water during this difficult time, and help keep your loved one from experiencing guilt by taking up too much of your time.

Stay active

An activity you and your loved one may be able to enjoy together is staying active and spending quality time outdoors. 

Exercise can play a big role in helping prevent and lessen some side effects of cancer, as well as helping to keep anxiety levels low.

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Brought to you by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. Material discussed is meant for general illustration and/or informational purposes only and it is not to be construed as tax, legal, investment or medical advice.
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