The moment cancer steps into your life, things change. A diagnosis can turn relationships on their head, change lives and engender all sorts of complex feelings – not least of which may be guilt. If you’re close to someone who is suffering, it can be a difficult time: on the one hand you naturally want to help, on the other you may find it hard to express how their illness is affecting you, leading to a certain tension. The important thing to remember is there is no right and wrong way to offer support; by simply being there you’re already making a positive difference. Nonetheless, there are certain steps you can take to ensure your time as a carer is as effective as possible:
Learn to Listen
The most important aspect of caring for someone with cancer is learning to listen. They may feel scared, sad, isolated, angry or even guilty. They may feel better for hearing their worries said aloud, or may simply want a conversation to take their mind off things. The important thing is to let them talk. Don’t fidget or act uncomfortable, even if you are. Maintain eye contact and engage with what they’re saying, rather than simply agreeing. Lastly, remember that this isn’t about you, but about them.
When someone we know is ill, the natural reaction for many of us is to attempt to reassure them. While it’s an admirable trait, simply saying ‘you’ll be alright’ or ‘don’t worry’ can feel like you’re avoiding the issue, or brushing off their very real fears.
It seems inappropriate to joke when someone’s ill, but it’s often what they want to hear. Pity can make us feel small, surrendered to the whims of an indifferent God. Humour, by contrast is empowering. Picking up on the absurdities of a tragic situation robs it of its awful power – shrinks it to manageable, human size. Learning to make them smile when they need it most may be the greatest thing you ever did.
Don’t Offer, Help
During her treatment for cancer, journalist Deborah Orr wrote a series of profound, witty columns about the exasperations of being ill. One of these was people who offer help simply for something to say. Rather than make such a sweeping statement, Ms Orr opined, make note of where they need help and just do it. Take her advice: taking time to make life easier for someone speaks louder than simply offering.
Make sure you’re available when they need you most. This may mean accompanying them to appointments, or being on hand when they hit their lowest ebb to help however you can. At the same time, don’t be offended if they prefer to be alone – some people are naturally happier when in their own company.
With something like cancer, it’s often easy to zero in on the end and let everything else in life slowly drift away. As a carer you can help mitigate this by helping them lead a normal life. If they’re capable, organise day trips and make time for things they like to do. Even getting out the house for an hour or two can make a real difference.
Help Them Share Their Feelings
Some people may find it hard to open up, even if they desperately want to. One of your challenges as a carer is to facilitate them sharing feelings, should they ever wish to. While the benefits of opening up outweigh the embarrassment you both may feel, it’s important not to push them before they’re ready. Make sure they’re aware you’re ready to listen and wait until they feel the time is right, whenever that is.
Don’t Feel Guilty
With something as difficult as caring, it’s likely that at some point you may feel you’ve failed or let your loved one down. This is natural, and it’s important you don’t blame yourself. We all make mistakes and allowing yourself to become despondent can negatively affect both of you. Ideally ensure there is someone you can talk to about what you’re going through who you can trust to listen.
Make Time for Yourself
Never forget that you have needs and feelings too. Be there, but don’t overburden yourself or feel guilty about wanting to take an evening off. Make sure your life carries on too – it’s a difficult balancing act to pull off, but one vital to your future wellbeing.
Coping with Cancer can be very difficult. If you are looking for some help and support then visit Cancer Research UK