When the Diagnosis is Cancer…

April 16, 2015

How to help a loved one take the next steps

There is little in our modern day lives which strikes dread in our hearts faster or more deeply than hearing the words “You have cancer” spoken to us or to someone we love. It is without a doubt a life-shattering event. Whether the diagnosis is mesothelioma, a cancer thought to be caused exclusively by exposure to asbestos fibers, or any other cancer, our bodies in some respects suddenly become the domain of others. Our outlooks change. We envision a future of surgeries and chemotherapy, of radiation treatments, of poking and prodding, physical disfigurement and of losing our hair. Our lives literally flash before our eyes. Here, then, are some positive and realistic steps you can take to offer comfort, support and even joy to the life of someone who has been handed the enormous challenge of living with cancer.

Be His/Her Eyes and Ears:

An initial diagnosis of cancer is often followed by a battery of follow-up appointments – for a second and maybe third opinion, for further scans and tests to determine a more accurate prognosis, for discussion of a treatment strategy and then implementation of that plan. Your loved one is already on emotional overload; he or she may not be able to process the steady stream of information they will be receiving over the first few days and weeks following a cancer diagnosis. Whenever possible, accompany your loved one to every appointment, even if they insist they’re feeling fine. Request permission from your loved one to ask questions of the doctor yourself, in case you think of something the patient might want to know. Take notes, lots of notes. In the doctor’s office, when tension and emotions are already running high, important questions might forget to be asked, critical information might not be remembered later. Write everything down.

Keep a Positive Attitude:

This does not mean giving false hope. Having a positive attitude means approaching your loved one’s cancer and treatment with optimism and good humor. Insisting that there will be a miracle cure may not be realistic and may leave the patient feeling as though they are carrying the heavy burden of their new reality alone. Pretending the cancer isn’t there also is not helpful. Whether the remaining life expectancy is weeks or months or years, it is important to be realistic about the future while maintaining an encouraging demeanor. Smile often. Find reasons to laugh together. Point out the beauty in the things which surround you, like the smell of fresh rain, spring flowers, a gentle touch. You needn’t fill the air with idle chatter, either. Maybe you both can sit together, reading quietly or working on a hobby side by side. Select funny movies to watch. Good humor is healthy for both of you. Plan special activities as conditions allow, something your loved one can look forward to after a treatment, for instance, like going for ice cream or a short drive in the country or maybe to lunch or a play.

Maintain a Routine:

Encourage your loved one to keep working if they are able. Having a fulfilling career stimulates the brain, keeps blood flowing and muscles supple and allows the patient to feel that he or she is continuing to make a valuable contribution to society. Going to work every day, even if it is just walking into the next room to write in a journal that will eventually be shared with family members, provides a motivation for living. It also fills up the hours that might otherwise be spent worrying about what will happen next. If continuing to work outside the home is not possible, establish a new routine for your loved one at home. Try to give the patient a pattern of pleasant daily activities to look forward to; tasks that will counteract the not-so-pleasant treatments and tests in between.

Take a Breather:

Don’t try to do everything by yourself all the time. Delegate where you can. Ask a son or daughter or friend to set up a page on a website where friends and relatives can go for information and updates, so you and your loved one won’t be inundated with constant phone calls and emails asking for the latest news. But do encourage those phone calls — and visits, too, if your loved one wants them. Interacting with young people, neighbors, siblings and other family members, and especially pets, keeps a patient engaged and occupied with the world around them. Ask for help with driving your loved one to doctor appointments and cancer treatments. Take one day a week to do something completely different that’s just for you, or do nothing at all. Set up a schedule for friends and family to provide meals once or more per week. Encourage your loved one to go on excursions with others if they are able, so you can sit back and do nothing for awhile, if that’s what you want. You needn’t feel guilty about doing this. The stimulation provided by engaging with others is very good for a cancer patient’s feeling of well-being and belonging.

The cancer journey is never an easy one for either of you. Being a caregiver to someone with cancer can enrich your life as much as it eases the burden for your loved one. But it requires strength and a commitment to be your strongest self in the face of enormous heartache. Give yourself and your loved one permission to feel emotions about what is happening. Remind yourselves that you are taking the journey together, come what may. And if your loved one is given a diagnosis of the asbestos cancer mesothelioma, be sure to contact a lawyer at Baron & Budd for a free and completely confidential consultation. Taking the right steps after someone you love is told they have cancer is all about learning to live a fulfilling life with the disease, not just about getting ready to die from it.