By Heather Millar
About a week ago, I was talking to a friend who’s about six months behind me in the breast cancer pipeline.
“You know,” she said. “I still cry. Just about every day, I have to sit for a few minutes and just cry about the cancer.”
She’s been through the wringer. Haven’t all cancer patients? But she’s got a good prognosis. I was not sure what to say, so I just nodded sympathetically.
“My husband doesn’t get it,” she continued. “He just says, ‘You’re going to live. You’re going to be OK.’ I know he means well, but that just doesn’t help! He doesn’t really want to talk about the cancer. I want to cry about it. I want to talk about it.”
Same situation, different needs, different reactions, different ways of communicating—if only this were uncommon. Emotional mismatch happens all the time in regular life. If it didn’t, the talk shows, the advice columns, and the self-help publishers would be out of business.
But, as a cancer patient, having your needs unmet, or your reactions misunderstood, can be that much more painful. Having cancer is enough of a nightmare. Emotionally, patients shouldn’t have to feel an endless, internal silent scream coursing through their bodies along with the surgical incisions, chemo infusions, and zaps of radiation.
Maybe the people who love and know you aren’t quite sure how to react to your reactions. Maybe you feel that people don’t want to listen to you anymore. “Compassion fatigue” is a real thing.
Yet I’ve found many, many ways to reach out and find a community of cancer patients who will help. In my experience, your peers in Cancerland will understand if you need to cry every day. They will also understand if you don’t cry at all.
Here are some suggestions to help you find the support that’s best for you:
• Of course, there’s the Cancer community here at WebMD.
• Most cancer centers offer support groups organized by type of cancer. Ask your oncologist what’s available in your community. The American Cancer Society makes referrals as well.
• Some cancer centers also offer “peer support programs.” Cancer survivors attend some counseling training and then use it to help others who are facing the same type of cancer that they have survived. The support usually comes in the form of periodic phone conversations. If you’re shy, or if you just don’t have time to attend a support group, this can be an excellent alternative.
If you can’t find a program locally, cancer survivor and Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton has founded the 4th Angel caregiving and patient mentoring program, which connects a trained mentor, by telephone, with patients and caregivers anywhere in the country. Cancer Hope Network offers similar services.
• CancerCare is based in New York City but offers free counseling from an oncology social worker no matter where you live in the United States. CancerCare also offers on-line support groups moderated by social workers, telephone support groups. They lead face-to-face support groups in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, and Connecticut. If you don’t live in any of those places, CancerCare will help you find an in-person support group in your area.
• If you’d like to talk to someone professional, the American Psychosocial Oncology Society or 866-276-7443 will help you find a counselor near your home.
• Imerman Angels connects a person fighting cancer today (“cancer fighter”) with someone who has beaten the same type of cancer (“cancer survivor”). The relationship provides a fighter the opportunity to ask personal questions and receive encouragement from someone who is uniquely familiar with the situation. The relationship provides a survivor the opportunity to personally help a fighter as he or she battles the disease. Call 877-274-5529
• You may not be a talker. If that’s the case, many medical centers are experimenting with “Art for Recovery” programs: knitting, painting, poetry, music and so on. Ask your oncologist or your nurse if there’s anything like that nearby, or just do a Google search with the terms “Art for Recovery.”
Sometimes, you’re going to feel isolated and misunderstood during your cancer journey. But it’s my bet you can find a shoulder to cry on…or whatever you need.