When someone in your family or a dear friend is diagnosed with cancer, strap yourself in. You’re facing a roller coaster of a ride.
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As their emotions go up — and then down — so will yours.
“It’s not a static thing. The cancer experience is always changing; not just for the patient, but for loved ones, as well,” explains psychosocial oncologist Joel Marcus, PsyD.
Here are nine things Dr. Marcus recommends you keep in mind when your loved one is dealing with cancer:
1. Sadness is natural.
It’s a typical response. When your loved one says, “I’m fine,” but you suspect otherwise, reach out. Say, “You know, you’re looking kind of sad. I haven’t seen you smile in a while. What’s going on?”
2. Anger is normal.
It’s entirely appropriate for your loved one (or you) to be angry about a disease that will change life as you know it. It’s not OK to take it out on others. Seek help to vent, and get a reality check on your feelings.
3. Expect crankiness.
Know that patients can become irritable after cancer treatment, when steroids have worn off. If your loved one is acting testy, check the calendar — and know that this, too, shall pass.
4. Speak your truth.
It’s OK to have feelings. But you don’t want to stay in them. Share your emotions, thoughts and feelings honestly and clearly with your loved one. You don’t want them to wonder, “What else aren’t they telling me?”
5. Mindfulness meditation helps.
It has a positive impact on the immune system, on anxiety and on sleep. Try meditation with your loved one. Watch thoughts come in. Acknowledge them without getting upset. Then let them fade.
6. Breathing deeply works.
Try breathing from the diaphragm with your loved one whenever cancer triggers fear of the future. Watch the breath as you inhale and exhale. Let it settle you into a calm space and bring you back to the present.
7. Foster spirituality.
It doesn’t matter whether your loved one attends church, synagogue, a mosque, or none of the above. A deeper spiritual connection can bring tremendous comfort along the cancer journey.
8. Connect with others.
Look for support centers that offer cancer patients, families and friends a peaceful, safe space to connect with others on this journey. Support groups, art therapy, yoga, exercise class and other services are typically free.
9. Know when to get help.
Sadness can morph into depression. If your loved one starts withdrawing, clamming up, or sleeping too much, seek help from a psychologist or licensed social worker.
Cancer doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Everyone feels its ripple effects. Families and friends are also on board for the ride.
“But when emotions disrupt their life — when they’re angry so often they can’t have a conversation, or when anxiety or fear keep spinning out of control — reach out and get them the care they (or you) need,” says Dr. Marcus.