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How you can be a supportive ally to a cancer patient

Today, on National Cancer Awareness Day, a medical expert gives advice on how you can be a supportive ally to a patient undergoing treatment for the big C

As a caregiver to a cancer patient, be open to listen more to what the patient has to share and less on what you have to advice.
As a caregiver to a cancer patient, be open to listen more to what the patient has to share and less on what you have to advice. (Pexels/Thirdman)

Being a strong ally and pillar of strength to a patient undergoing cancer treatment can be a difficult path to carve out for the caregiver. With primary responsibility falling on the caregiver, the journey needs to be an emotionally evolving and well-informed one, so that the patient feels supported physically and emotionally throughout. Here are steps you can follow as a caregiver to ensure that you stay strong through it all.  

Emotionally equip yourself: Post the initial diagnosis of the illness, emotions will tend to run high for the both the patient and the caregiver. More often than not the patient could be going through an initial phase of denial. While this is a normal reaction, it is equally justified for you as the caregiver to feel displaced about what to say or what to do. Take the initial time out to emotionally equip yourself as the caregiver, before you move to supporting the patient. Apply the rule of airplane oxygen mask. First handle your own emotions and then reach out to the patient. Do not let your own emotional baggage overwhelm the vulnerable patient.

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Spend some time to understand the treatment process: It is a norm for doctors onboard to confer with both the patient and the caregiver to help them understand the treatment process. That said, it would still be a good idea if you, the caregiver, spent some time separately to get a lowdown on everything related to the cancer your close one is ailing from: from the surgery options available to chemotherapy and radiation possibilities and details of hormonal therapy as well as immunotherapy. This will give you better perspective on the patient’s sentiments and what they are going through, as the various stages of treatment change.

Validate the patient's feelings: It is imperative to check on your loved one at regular intervals. Make that phone call, send in that text and make sure you ae physically available. Validate their feelings and experiences, be open to listening to more of what they have to share and less on what you have to advice. Be mindful to gauge where they are at mentally, to be able to navigate conversations better and be in sync with their emotional wavelength. Motivate the patient to consider taking oncotherapy sessions to reduce their growing mental turmoil through the cancer treatment.

Help with the chores: Along with being the patient's emotional support, step up physically to share the chore load. Send that care package, volunteer to look after the meal preps and laundry, coordinate and accompany them for scheduled doctor visits, and plan recreational engaging activities that can add some cheer to their bleak days.

Focus on your physical and mental well-being: It is crucial to look after yourself as a caregiver to be able to support the patient better. Seek therapy to be able to let out your own emotional turmoil and gain balance. Focus on your own meal-sleep and-exercise schedule to maintain a positive headspace for yourself. It is normal to feel overwhelmed and bogged down as a caregiver. Hence, ensure to keep your own friends, family and the patient’s doctors updated about your own thoughts, emotional lows, patient-related challenges and treatment-related concerns. Consider joining a support group to connect with fellow caregivers and exchange experiences, in order to be able to navigate this journey better.

Dr. Vanshika Gupta Adukia is a pregnancy/childbirth and lactation specialist, a pelvic floor physiotherapist and founder of Therhappy, Mumbai. 

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