It can be a difficult to bring up, even when you’re close (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Cancer treatment can be gruelling, and no one deserves to go through it alone.
When you find out a loved one has cancer it can feel like the world stops. Similar to how they’d have felt in the doctor’s office, such terrible news makes everything else seem insignificant.
After the initial shock, it’s likely your first priority will be helping them out in any way you can.
However, as cancer is a sensitive topic and each person responds to offers of support differently, it’s also natural to be worried about how you approach things.
Danny Bell, a treatment and medicines advisor at Macmillian Cancer Support, said: ‘When a friend or family member has cancer you may wonder how best to help and support them.
‘People might feel unsure about what to say or do but most people need others to be open and sensitive to how they are feeling and what they are experiencing.’
There’s no right or wrong way to comfort a loved one with cancer, but the main thing is to be there for them when they need it and ensure they know they can reach out.
Research by Macmillan found that one in four people diagnosed with cancer in the UK lacked support from family and friends during their treatment and recovery, while 53% of healthcare professionals said patients had decided to skip treatment altogether because they had no support.
To ensure they never feel like they’re ‘being a burden’, let your friend or relative know that you’ve always got their back, whether it’s calling for a good old catch-up or helping around the house when they don’t feel able.
Chemotherapy can be painful but also draining mentally, so ensure you’re helping your pal keep busy and let them know they can call any time (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)
‘Every person with cancer has a different experience so try not to assume how they might be feeling,’ says Danny Bell.
‘They may feel happy one day and sad the next, or have no energy one day but be okay on another day. Try to be mindful of their mood and the physical impact of cancer and its treatment on them.’
In terms of the physical impact, this can take its toll in a number of different ways. Pain is common during chemotherapy and radiotherapy or after surgery, so avoid anything overly strenuous until they’re feeling better.
Some treatments can cause hair loss or changes to the body, which can lead to a sense of loss of identity as they get used to their changing self-image. Making things as ‘normal’ as possible should help with this, showing your loved one that they’re loved for exactly who they are.
There are some practical things that aren’t suitable for someone undergoing cancer treatment. False nails, for example, aren’t recommended as they increase the risk of infection, so you may need to rethink plans if your usual bonding activity is getting a manicure together.
Certain chemotherapy drugs can also alter a person’s appetite or change the way food tastes, while others are not supposed to be taken alongside any alcohol, so bear this in mind.
That doesn’t mean you can’t treat your friend or relative until their treatment is over, though.
Organise a pamper night with cancer-friendly products or ensure your meet-ups are close to home so they can rest if needed. It’s also worth checking ahead before booking foodie plans, as they may be able to request anti-sickness tablets from their doctor for the day.
‘Remember that they might not want to talk or think about their cancer and might prefer a normal conversation about everyday things,’ added Macmillan’s experts.
‘They still need to feel valued and useful even if they cannot do some of the things they normally do, like go to work or continue social activity. This can be hard but with support they can still enjoy activity if it’s planned properly.’
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