Coping skills for loved ones
Be aware that the patient may set up a false front, or a “happy face”, even if he or she doesn’t really feel that way. This may be a way to try to protect loved ones, and possibly themselves, from painful feelings. And some people believe that a person with cancer can improve their outcome by being cheerful and happy all the time.
Studies of coping styles and survival or recurrence show that cheerfulness has little to no effect on the cancer. However, some people with cancer feel guilty for being sad or fearful, and may try to act happy and positive even if it is painful to them.
If you think that this is happening, gently tell the person that you are willing to hear about their feelings, no matter what they are. The message may be something like, I care for you, and I am here for you whether you are happy, afraid, angry, or sad.
It may help to know that patients with more social support tend to have less anxiety and depression and better quality of life. People with cancer find it encouraging to have others who listen and help with the practical aspects of dealing with cancer. Asking for this kind of support from family members and loved ones may help to reduce your distress as well as the patient’s.
Finally, being able to talk with the doctor about medical fears, concerns about pain, and other issues may help the patient to feel more comfortable. You or someone who is close to the patient may want to offer to go with (or take) him or her to the doctor. Your presence may be calming, and you may be able to help the person remember symptoms or problems that need to be addressed. The doctor or cancer care team can answer questions and explain concerns. They can also offer referrals to mental health professionals.
Call the Doctor if your loved one experiences any of the following symptoms:
• Thoughts of suicide.
• Inability to eat or sleep.
• Lack of interest in usual activities for several days.
• Inability to experience pleasure in anything.
• Emotions that interfere with functioning and last more than a few days.
• Difficulty breathing.
• Severe restlessness.
• New or unusual symptoms that cause concern.
For more information on keeping well during cancer treatment, visit the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org