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How to support a loved one through cancer

Here's how to support a loved one through difficult times.

A cancer diagnosis for a family member or friend is always a big challenge for loved ones. It can be tricky to navigate the rough waters of dealing with the physical realities of cancer, as well as the treatments of chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and hormonal treatment.

There are many ways we can support our loved ones in these situations. In my experience, three types of support come to mind:

1. Being there is number one

Sometimes this means allowing a safe space for your loved one to talk with you about their experience of the cancer diagnosis, the physical, mental and emotional symptoms they might be experiencing, or about their cancer treatment.

Sometimes ‘being there’ just means helping to distract your loved one with good conversation about what you usually talk about – the kids, your work, the footy or the last episode of that reality TV show that you don’t like to admit you’re addicted to!

Doing things with your loved one can be limited by their illness at times, but making the effort to get them out of their usual routine or environment can pay off, and I think it’s always worth a shot. If they constantly feel unwell, they may get into a rhythm of only getting out of the house for treatments. Getting to the footy, going to a movie or even just out for coffee or cup of tea can break up the monotony of staying in.

“Sometimes ‘being there’ just means helping to distract your loved one with good conversation about what you usually talk about – the kids, your work, the footy.”

2. Consider offering to go to appointments and treatments with your loved one

This can be challenging for both them and you at times, but even just the offer is a sure sign that you’re willing to go the extra mile with someone, even if it’s uncomfortable, awkward or brings up emotions you might rather avoid.

3. Give practical help

House cleaning, cooking or helping your loved one with their usual responsibilities like getting the kids to school or sport can bring such relief. Be aware that some people can be pretty particular about how these things get done, but don’t take extra instruction as a criticism. This is an area where people with cancer can feel empowered by still having some control over their day to day lives.

At the end of the day, keep your eye out for opportunities to show support, while respecting the wishes of your family member or friend. It’s also important to look after yourself in these situations – you’re no good to anyone if you let yourself become emotionally or physically exhausted!

Jane Collopy is a Melbourne based naturopath, practising at Whole Life Naturopathy. Her book, Safe and Effective Natural Therapies to Support You Through Cancer Treatment, is available through Balboa Press.

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