Social Support During Cancer: How to Create It
For cancer patients and their loved ones, social support is a major part of the cancer journey. Most people’s idea of the cancer experience involves images of family and friends rallying around a newly diagnosed loved one, and helping them down the path of recovery.
Add the stereotypical support group to that image, and you have a nebulous and mostly inaccurate view of what social support really means. Not only that, ideas of social support itself are vague, and there is no clear definition of protocols.
Yet social support is instrumental for those navigating the complexities of the cancer journey. From diagnosis to treatment, the positive outcomes of social support are most likely to occur when they are considered within a framework.
There are many different kinds of social support, and one or more may be expressed by various people in your life. It’s useful to think both about your own needs as well as the needs and capabilities of your support network.
Consider the following four categories of social support to better understand what to expect from your relationships. Fill in the chart below to gain insight into your own expectations, and whom you can rely on for advice and information, or deeper emotional connection.
Practical support involves the pragmatic aspects of day-to-day living. Who can you count on to help you with your daily tasks? These are the people who are readily available to help you with rides to the doctor or treatment sessions, meal preparation, errands and childcare.
Informational support involves advice and knowledge that you may not have. Who can you turn to for reliable information, or to give you helpful advice? This kind of support may be found at the institutional-level or from organizations like the National Cancer Institute, your care team, or a trusted friend with medical knowledge or a shared cancer experience.
Behavioral support involves companionship. Who keeps you company in your free time or helps you check things off your to-do list? These people are often your exercise buddies, co-workers, neighbors or close acquaintances.
Emotional support comes from those you feel most comfortable opening up to about your inner states. These are the people who are always willing to listen and support you when you’re feeling down such as your close friends, family members or intimate relationship partners.
Think about these categories of support, and who in your life you can count on to offer various kinds of support. Keep in mind that in addition to individuals, you may find support from non-for-profit organizations like Reach to Recovery through ACS and others.
Try to come up with at least a few people or organizations in each category, even if you don’t need their support in the short term. This will help you determine who to ask for help when you need it, and to be more proactive in planning your course of treatment.
A well-balanced support system can make a huge difference in your recovery.