Guest post from Jason Klimkowski of MentalHealthProviders.
This article is for friends or family of someone dealing with cancer. While this guidance may seem obvious to some, it has proven to be very helpful to those dealing with it for the first time. You’re going to feel like you wish you possessed a magic wand that could cure everyone’s ailments. Following these guidelines are all steps in the right direction.
It’s an undeniable truth: watching a family member or friend navigate the tumultuous journey of cancer is heart-wrenching. Often, we’re flooded with a mix of emotions – from fear and helplessness to guilt or even anger.
For those standing on the sidelines of this battle, the emotional toll can sometimes feel as heavy as what the patient is experiencing. But one thing is certain: understanding their exact feelings and struggles is nearly impossible unless you’ve walked in their shoes. And that’s okay.
The Misstep of Relating
It’s human nature to want to relate to others. We often believe that by sharing a similar story or experience, we can bridge the gap of understanding. However, when it comes to cancer, every individual’s journey is deeply personal and unique. What one person feels or experiences can differ vastly from another’s path.
When we jump in with our stories, thinking we’re connecting, we might inadvertently invalidate or overshadow the feelings of the one who’s suffering. While our intentions are good, it’s crucial to recognize that relating isn’t always what the person needs.
The Power of Active Listening
Instead of trying to relate, consider channeling your energy into active listening. This means genuinely focusing on what the person is saying without formulating your response or story in your mind.
- Stay Present: Focus solely on the person speaking. Make eye contact, nod, and give cues that you’re with them every step of the way.
- Don’t Interrupt: Let them lead the conversation. They might simply need to vent or express their feelings without seeking advice or solutions.
- Validate Their Feelings: Simple affirmations like “That sounds really tough” or “I can’t imagine how hard that must be” can make the person feel heard and understood.
- Ask Open-Ended Questions: Encourage them to share more if they wish. Questions like “How are you feeling about that?” or “What was that experience like for you?” can open up deeper conversations.
Finding Strength in Silence
Sometimes, words fall short. There will be moments when silence serves as the most profound form of support. A reassuring hug or simply sitting beside them can speak volumes. It’s worth making every effort to imagine what it must be like being in their shoes. It might be worth asking if they want to vent or if they want a distraction.
Taking Care Of Yourself On Your Own Time
Physical activity in moderation continues to be touted as one of the best investments you can make for your long-term health. The best part about it? That investment in your physical health benefits your mental health as well. Daily exercise, even simply walking or moving around, has been shown to improve one’s sense of well-being.
Supporting a friend or family member through cancer bouts is a demanding responsibility. It can take a toll on your health, so it’s beneficial to make an effort to move around every chance you get.
Mental Health Matters
While supporting a loved one, it’s essential to remember your mental well-being. Watching someone you care about suffer is emotionally draining. Ensure you have outlets to process your feelings, whether through talking to someone, writing, or seeking professional help for mental health. They may not say it or even realize it, but they are counting on you to be there for them, so it’s up to you to maintain your health to fulfill that need.
Supporting a loved one going through cancer is a profound act of love. While we may never truly understand their journey, by listening actively and being present, we can offer a pillar of strength and comfort during one of the most challenging times in their life.