Cancer Treatment: Getting the Support You Need

Chemotherapy, like cancer, can bring major changes to a person's life. While it can help cure your cancer, it can sometimes affect overall health, cause stress, disrupt day-to-day schedules, and strain personal relationships. It is no wonder, then, that some people feel tearful, anxious, angry, or depressed at some point during their chemotherapy.

These emotions can be perfectly normal, but they can also be disturbing. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with these emotional side effects, just as there are ways to cope with the physical side effects of chemotherapy.

How Can I Get Support?

You can draw on many sources of support. Here are some of the most important:

Doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. If you have questions or worries about your cancer treatment, talk with members of your health care team. Tell them if you are feeling anxious or depressed, or if you are experiencing other emotional or physical changes.

Counseling professionals. There are many kinds of counselors who can help you express, understand, and cope with your feelings. If you are depressed, you should consider seeking professional help. Feeling hopeless, worthless, guilty, or that life is not worth living are signs of depression. Depending on your preferences and needs, you may want to talk with a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, sex therapist, or member of the clergy. There are also medicines that can be used to treat depression. Many cancer centers have "psycho-oncology" programs with psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers trained to work with cancer patients. Your doctor, nurse, or social worker may be able to suggest who to contact.

Friends and family members. Talking with friends or family members can help you feel a lot better. Often, they can comfort and reassure you in ways that no one else can. However, you may need to help them help you. At a time when you might expect that others will rush to your aid, you may have to make the first move.

Asking friends and family for help. Many people do not understand cancer, and may withdraw from you because they are afraid of your illness and not know what to do to help you. Others may worry that they will upset you by saying "the wrong thing." You can help by being open in talking with others about your illness, your treatment, your needs, and your feelings. By talking openly, you can correct mistaken ideas about cancer. You can also let people know that there is no single "right" thing to say, as long as their caring comes through loud and clear. Once people know they can talk with you honestly, they may be more willing and able to open up and lend their support. Accepting help may be hard. When you allow others to help, you make them feel less helpless. In a sense, you are helping others deal with your illness.

The National Cancer Institute's booklet, Taking Time, offers useful advice to help cancer patients, their families and friends communicate with one another.

Support groups. Support groups are made up of people who are going or have gone through the same kinds of experiences as you. Many people with cancer find they can share thoughts and feelings with group members that they do not feel comfortable sharing with anyone else. Support groups also can serve as an important source of practical information about living with cancer. Some studies suggest that not only can support groups help with how you are feeling emotionally, but may also help you recover physically from your cancer.

Support can also be found in one-to-one programs that put you in touch with another person very similar to you in age, sex, type of cancer, and so forth. In some programs, this person comes to visit you. In others, a "hotline" puts you in touch with someone you can talk with on the telephone. Later, you may want to help others who are going through the same experience you did.

Sources for information about support programs, counseling advice, financial assistance, transportation to and from treatment, and information about cancer include neighborhood organizations, local health care providers, and your hospital, clinic, or medical center where you are being treated. At public libraries and patient libraries at hospitals, a librarian can help you find books and articles through a literature search. The National Cancer Institute's Cancer Information Service (1-800-4-CANCER) is also an excellent source of information and publications.

How Can I Make My Daily Life More Enjoyable?

  • Share your feelings with friends and family.
  • Watch funny movies. Help someone else.
  • Listen to music.
  • Try new hobbies and learn new skills.
  • Exercise, if you can.
  • Do things that interest you.

For more information about cancer therapy side effects, and coping with them, please read the "Chemotherapy and Cancer Treatment, Coping with Side Effects" article.

SOURCE: National Cancer Institute (www.cancer.gov)


Last Editorial Review: 8/8/2006