Managing Treatments

Cancer Support Services: How to Build a Support Network

Getting through cancer treatment is much easier if you can call on a network of support.

We all need a little help from time to time, especially when it comes to cancer treatment, but not everyone has a caregiver who can jump in and lead the way. By combining cancer support services offered by community organizations, and weaving in the support of coworkers, friends and extended family members, you can build a support network to help you through cancer treatment.

Nurse Navigators and Patient Navigators

A patient navigator helps patients maneuver through the various types of treatment and connect with community resources with a focus on managing the logistics of receiving care. A nurse navigator also has a nursing degree, and may be the patient’s primary point of contact for scheduling and receiving care. Patients can contact their navigator to discuss a wide range of issues from discussing the side effects of treatment to making arrangements for an at-home healthcare worker if necessary.

Social Workers

Oncology social workers specialize in helping people navigate the emotional turbulence of living with cancer. They are well-connected with community cancer support services and can help you find local organizations that can provide different forms of assistance, such as prosthetics, wigs and rides to treatment.

Your Employer

It might be tempting to hide your illness from your boss, but it’s actually best to clear the air early on. Get ahead of the curve by talking to your supervisor and your human resources department. Get the Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) paperwork filed in advance so your treatment and sick days don’t put your job at risk.

At the same time, talk to your human resources representative about any other benefits your employer might provide that could help you through this time. Many employers provide benefits that are overlooked when we’re hired because they’re not relevant to us at that time. Checking back when you have a major change like cancer may uncover hidden gems in your benefit package.

Many employers are also willing to go out of their way to help an employee with cancer. Make sure they hear about the cancer from you rather than through the grapevine. Get them on your team early as you build your support network.

Your Place of Worship

Many places of worship have care teams or clergy members who will help out when a congregation member is experiencing a health challenge. Your place of worship may be able to rally a team to visit you and help address your needs by providing companionship, rides, meals or other forms of support during your treatment.

Friends and Family

Friends and extended family members may be willing to help, but just don’t know what to say or do. Let them know what’s going on, and keep people informed of surgeries, chemotherapy infusions and other treatments. If you keep the lines of communication open, that will make it easier for them to offer, or for you to ask for help. You might be surprised at just how many people are willing to lend their support.

Cancer Support Groups

As much as our loved ones mean to us, unless they’ve been through cancer themselves, the experience can be difficult for them to understand. Cancer support groups are an essential part of receiving the support you need as you undergo treatment. This group of survivors can provide the understanding of someone who’s been there along with practical tips for things that have worked well for other cancer survivors.

Community Resources

Care coordination sites such as Lotsa Helping Hands can help you keep track of your appointments and your needs while you undergo treatment. The site allows you to set up needs, such as dates and times you need a ride to treatment or meal delivery, and people can sign up to fulfill those needs.

Friends, family and coworkers might say, “Is there anything I can do to help?” and that’s your opportunity to share the link to your care coordination site so they can volunteer to help however it best suits their schedule and willingness. Add friends, family members, coworkers and the care team from your place of worship to the list and make it easy for them to jump in and help out as they are able.

The American Cancer Society provides a 24-hour toll-free line you can call with questions about cancer and treatment options, along with information on managing side effects and pain management. The trained operators on these lines can also provide information on local resources that can help meet the needs of people living with cancer, such as support groups, rides to treatment, wigs and financial programs. The cancer support services available vary from state to state and town to town, but the operators can be quite creative in helping you find programs that will help you through this experience.

All of these suggestions involve asking for and accepting help. This is a step that can be particularly difficult for some people: It requires a good deal of courage, but it’s a crucial step in getting through the cancer experience. You may take pride in your independence, but living with cancer requires a village of medical experts and loved ones to help you navigate this challenge. Learning to graciously accept help can make a huge improvement in your quality of life as you go through treatment for cancer.

One of the best ways to build a support network is to reach out to those around you who know what you're going through.

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Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley