Building Your Support Network

We’re all different. Some people like to have a broad network of people around them during their cancer journey, others prefer a more solitary approach, sharing it with just one or two people. In some cases others  go through it alone, either by necessity or choice.

Generally however, it’s a good idea to create a support system that can help you emotionally and practically when you need it. Consider too your closest carers and what support they’ll need to help you and themselves.

If you don’t have any close family or friends you feel can help you, you still don’t have to go through your experience alone. Your health care team can recommend a social worker. Some not-for-profit organisations also run support groups or provide telephone-based support.

A support system helps in a number of ways, both practically and emotionally.

Practical help might include:

  • Helping you keep track of appointments and health records
  • Taking you to and from appointments.
  • Help with insurance or financial arrangements.
  • Help with day-to-day needs or find groups that can help you.
  • Simply being available to listen and talk when you need to.
  • Be your point of contact for your broader network of friends.


Asking for help

Many people find it hard to ask for help, but when you’re unwell for long periods of time you might have to. There are times when you won’t feel well enough to help yourself so having a support network around you can be vital.

Finding someone to speak on your behalf as an advocate is also  invaluable. Friends, family or someone you trust can speak on your behalf, help and support you.

While they won’t make decisions about your treatment or care, they can be there for you during your appointments, help you find new health care providers, or research treatments and trials that might help you.

Navigating your way through your treatment, possibly through different hospitals or facilities can be challenging. Many hospitals provide Cancer Care Coordinators who work inside the hospital system and help patients through the complex networks of treatments and professionals often required.


Close-up of female doctor consoling a patient at the hospital


How to marshal your support crew

Often in times of crisis you might find you’re inundated with offers of help or support. Your close family and friends often want to help in any way they can but so too do people in your broader network. Saying yes or no to offers of support can be hard when you’re not well, especially when people ask what they can do, meaning you have to think of an answer.

Sometimes you might select someone to be your ‘help coordinator’ to coordinates all the offers of help into a simple diary. You need somebody with a good practical and organisational head for this role, often a friend rather than a family member.

As soon as possible, try to get as organised as possible. Think about both what you need personally and what you would do to help someone else in your situation.

Write down a list of practical things people can do if they ask ‘Is there anything I can do?’ This can be specific (pick the children up every Tuesday and Thursday while I’m at my appointment, pick up fresh fruit from the greengrocer every Monday) or more general (find me some recommendations for a good local massage). Generally people will do what you ask because they want to help.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help as a good support system will reduce your stress levels and allow you to focus on getting better. If you don’t have a ‘ready made’ network, find a social worker, counsellor or volunteer support group in your area that’s right for you.

Delegate tasks. Things still need to get done like cooking, cleaning or watering the garden. Asking other people to help will give you closest carers (usually husbands and wives) a break too.


Dealing with other people when you have cancer

You are not responsible for dealing with other people’s emotions about your cancer. It can be very draining for someone suffering with cancer to ‘manage’ others reactions, either one-off or ongoing, to their cancer.

Be prepared for a mixed reaction when you tell people you have cancer. People often don’t know what to see, especially if they’re unaware you’ve been ill. Allow people some latitude in their reactions, as it might take them a while to come to terms with it and adjust to their feelings. You might find that initially, you have to be the one comforting others.

If you want to limit your communication with others, especially you’re wider network, ask people to communicate with you through email, text or social networks. That way you can regulate your own exposure and also update large groups of people at once.

People generally just want to offer messages of support and be updated on your progress. However saying the same thing over and over can be physically and emotionally draining so either say in advance that you’ll update only when you feel up to it, or delegate this task to a ‘coordinator’. This will save you the anxiety of having to feel you have to keep people up to date.

Your cancer and treatment is also going to have a profound effect on those people around you who love and care for you. Your family and loved ones will try to support you but it will be difficult for them to see you suffer.

Let them know how much you love and value their support, how you appreciate their care and that you realise that it’s also their journey, as a carer, that can be hard.


Trusted Links

Australian Government – Carer Gateway

In an Emergency call 000 for an ambulance.


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