Monday Medical: Supporting friends with cancer

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An invitation for a walk or movie; a helping hand with laundry; an offer to give a person a ride to and from treatment.

Reaching out to a friend with cancer can be as simple as sending a thoughtful card or calling to ask how he or she is doing.

Unfortunately, cancer and fear go hand in hand, and this can cause people with the best intentions to become tongue tied, but that shouldn’t prevent them from trying.

A little sensitivity and respect can nurture a trusting relationship that, ultimately, provides the person with cancer the support he or she needs to cope with the immense physical and emotional challenges of his or her illness.

Confronting a person’s cancer can be difficult, but skirting around the issue can be hurtful to a friend immersed in one of the biggest fights of his or her life.

When acknowledging a friend’s situation, speak from the heart. “I’m sorry to hear you are going through this,” or, “If you would like to talk about it, I am here,” are examples of statements that show a person cares.

Katy Thiel is a social worker and interim director of the Hospice and Palliative Care program at the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. She said that every person copes with cancer differently; some might be open about their condition while others pull inward. Reading their cues will let a friend know whether they want to talk more or if it’s best to broach the subject again later.

“Bring it up and see where the person is … realize that you can’t fix it, we just need to be there to let them vent,” she said.

Be cognizant of how curiosity and concern can sometimes translate into a lecturing tone or inappropriate questions. Avoid questions about lifestyle choices or choices they’ve made about treatment.

“We really need to honor their way of doing things and their timeline of doing things,” Thiel said.

Use common sense to balance between being overly positive and overly negative.

Telling a person they should be resting instead of out doing something he or she enjoys can be discouraging and upsetting. At the same time, telling a person to have a positive attitude can be patronizing and discount the many emotions he or she is experiencing.

While it’s important to acknowledge a person’s cancer and be available if he or she wants to talk about it, it’s also important to treat him or her as normally as possible by including the friend in activities and social events. Individuals with cancer have a tendency to isolate themselves, so it’s important to keep reaching out, even if they decline.

People fighting cancer often are exhausted; they need help but might be too proud to ask for it or too overwhelmed to take advantage of open-ended offers.

“People in general want to be strong … cancer often wipes them out, and they have a hard time reaching out,” Thiel said, adding that the best way to help is to think about what that person might need and make a specific offer.

A helpful book about this topic is “Help Me Live: 20 Things People with Cancer Want you to Know,” by Lori Hope, a cancer survivor and caregiver.

Two fundraisers this week provide additional opportunities to support individuals with cancer or honor those who have lost their lives to the disease.

Relay For Life is an overnight run/walk event raising funds for cancer research, prevention and treatment. It begins 6 p.m. Friday at Steamboat Springs High School. Register or donate at www.steamboatrelayforlife.com.

Ride 4 Yellow is a 26-mile mountain bike ride raising money for cancer support services and awareness. It takes place Saturday. Register or donate at www.ride4yellow.com.

This article includes information from www.cancer.org and www.lorihope.com.

Tamera Manzanares is a community outreach specialist for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

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