When you are diagnosed with cancer, it’s not only important to have a great oncologist to heal your body, but it’s also important to have a support system in place to help heal your mind. After all, going through cancer brings with it a rollercoaster of emotions.
“Having people to rely upon is paramount,” says Camille Romain, manager of social work at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute. “They’ll be there for you on your worst days and help you celebrate your best days. From having an extra set of eyes and ears at your doctor’s appointments to completing daily chores (and just having someone to talk to) support can come in a variety of ways.”
In identifying the people to fill these roles, close friends and family members automatically come to mind. “Look for someone who listens, someone who you feel like you can be comfortable around, and someone who you see as being dependable. These are the characteristics that are truly important in a support person,” says Romain.
Although it can be challenging to ask for help, don’t be afraid to do so. Your loved ones likely feel helpless and are happy to do anything they can to help you during this time.
Seeking Out Your Support System
Romain shares a few key supportive roles that will be helpful throughout your cancer journey:
- Someone to accompany you to your doctor’s appointments. Having a friend or family member who can bring a list of questions to ask the doctor, take notes for you, and serve as your advocate can be really important, especially when you might not be in a calm mindset.
- Someone to help with daily tasks. “Be specific with your ask and you’ll eliminate any disappointment you might have if they don’t do it as you’d like,” Romain says. “For example, instead of, ‘will you help me cut my grass?’ You can say, ‘will you cut my grass for me every Tuesday?’ Communicate exactly what you need.”
- Someone who knows what you’re going through. People you don’t know yet—i.e., the new relationships you’ll form during your cancer journey—can also be so important. “This could be a patient who happens to be scheduled for chemo at the same time as you,” says Romain. “It could also be someone who you’ve found through a cancer support group. Here at Henry Ford, we have a variety of cancer support groups for so many types of cancer, from brain to breast, metastatic and more. Imerman Angels is also a national non-profit organization that connects people with similar cancers to offer support and mentorship.”
Finding Support After Treatment Ends
Having a support system in place as a cancer survivor who has completed active treatment is important. Creating a survivorship care plan with your medical team can also help bridge the gap between life in treatment and life afterward. It will provide an overview of your diagnosis, how you were diagnosed, when the workup started, and what treatment you received. The plan will also explain how often you’ll see a provider for follow-up appointments, what labs you’ll need, and potential latent treatment side effects you might experience.
Survivorship resources can also help improve your quality of life: acupuncture and rehab appointments can help ease long-term side effects, exercise programs can provide fitness assessments and plans, registered dietitians can offer eating tips to jumpstart a healthy eating regimen, and psychologists can help you process whatever you may be feeling, whether joy, grief, anxiousness, happiness—or all of those emotions simultaneously.
Camille Romain, MBA, LMSW, is the manager of social work at the Henry Ford Cancer Institute.