When a colleague, friend or loved one has cancer you might feel unsure about what to say or do. A good place to start is to acknowledge the situation, rather than pretending it’s not happening.
Always ask before you visit, in case they are not feeling well. The first thing you should know is that every person with cancer has a different experience. Try not to take it personally when their mood changes from one moment to the next.
Be open and honest about how you got the news but respect their need for privacy. Let the person with cancer lead the conversation. Give a friendly squeeze or hug and let them know that if they want to talk you’ll be there to listen.
People are often afraid of saying the wrong thing but the more you talk the easier it will be, and if the person is comfortable with it, other topics will flow naturally. Be a good listener. You don’t need to have all the answers.
A couple of don’ts
A cancer journey is scary and full of uncertain outcomes. Don’t say that you know they will be fine or that you know how they feel. Read more about the impact of a life-threatening disease on loved ones.
Don’t give advice if they have not asked for it.
Don’t tell them to be positive or strong rather offer your support throughout the whole diagnosis.
If they are open for it, offer to help with:
- Setting up a funding page.
- Transport to the infusion centre or other medical appointments.
- Preparing ready-made meals.
- Cleaning or doing the laundry.
- Doing the shopping.
- Doing school runs.
Suggest sessions to learn MBSR (mindfulness-based stress reduction), Yoga/meditation can be great mindfulness techniques.
An exercise is a tool that the physical therapist uses, making modifications for each individual.
Dale Eggert can attest to the toll cancer treatment takes on a person’s body.
“After my fifth round of chemotherapy, I felt so weak,” he says. Although he hadn’t spent much time at the gym prior to his cancer diagnosis, Eggert, an artist, says he was “pretty active,” regularly taking 2-mile walks and working in his studio. Still, he wasn’t prepared for the crushing fatigue caused by his treatment. “This put me on my butt,” he says. “Chemotherapy sapped my strength.”
Eggert talked with his nurse practitioner and was soon connected with Molly Megan, a physical therapist at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wisconsin, where he received post-surgical care and later transitioned to the Cancer Recovery With Exercise program at the same location. Megan created a plan that included bike riding, balance moves and weightlifting exercises such as leg and shoulder presses. Fatigue interfered as Eggert worked his way through the program, he says, but his therapist encouraged him to take it slowly and listen to his body. “If I got too tired, she said, ‘We’ll try something else. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it. There’s always tomorrow, and that machine’s going to be waiting for you,’” he recalls.
But Eggert didn’t have to push himself to do 10 or 20 repetitions of an exercise to notice results. He simply focused on doing as many as he could and soon began to feel the benefits. “After one or two months, I felt better,” he says. “I could last longer. My fatigue level dropped, my appetite increased and I slept better.”
Like Eggert, many people being treated for cancer experience severe fatigue, which often tops lists of the most common side effects of both chemotherapy and radiation. And although it might seem counterintuitive, physical therapy can play a vital role in fighting it.