A cancer diagnosis is always a shock.Even if you have a good prognosis, your life has suddenly been upended, and your priorities are about to change.
You and your doctors will develop a comprehensive strategy for your medical care, but it’s just as important to build up a support system to help you with everything you need in between trips to the hospital.
Rally the Troops: Organize Your Support Network
When word gets out that you’ve just declared war on cancer, you’ll receive an outpouring of offers of support. Your friends, co-workers, and family genuinely want to help, but they might not know how.
Here’s some advice to help them help you.
Enlist an HR Manager
The last thing you want to do is answer calls, schedule rides, and plan meals when you’re recovering from surgery or a grueling round of chemotherapy. Sometimes, it’s just not easy for self-reliant individuals to gracefully accept (or ask for) help.
Do you have a reliable friend or adult family member who is fantastic at organizing? If they also have good people skills, they might be an excellent candidate for coordinating your support network. Here’s what your “volunteer coordinator” can do to make your life—and your family’s—easier:
- Manage incoming messages of support and providing updates through social media or e-mail lists
- Maintain volunteer schedules and requests for assistance with:
- household chores
- rides to appointments
- visits, supervision, and hand-holding
- looking after kids
- Coordinate meal deliveries
- Reminding people to put their names on their dishes and containers, and letting them know how to get them back
- Informing friends of your and your family’s dietary restrictions and favorite foods
- Keep the flow of assistance consistent and ongoing: Sometimes, after the initial wave of support, you need to remind your personal network that they can still help out.
It’s important for your volunteer coordinator to be specific when requesting help with certain responsibilities, and to find out which tasks are most appropriate for each helper.
Be Your Own Advocate
You’ll be working with your primary care provider, your oncologist, your pharmacist, a physical therapist, and hopefully, a nutritionist for the duration of your treatment. While online documentation has made recordkeeping and communication among your care providers more efficient and has reduced the danger of conflicting prescriptions, it’s important to take your own notes.
Keep a binder or notebook handy, and have your helpers and family keep track of all your treatments, whether they’re a new round of antibiotics or your post-operative spirometer exercises.
When someone’s sitting at your bedside, they can make sure your caregivers are cleaning their hands, and alert nursing staff when doctors have dropped by to update your chart or course of treatment.
Mental Wellness (For You and Your Family)
Cancer is an emotional stress on everyone close to you, and you yourself might find it difficult to remain positive. By enlisting the help of a volunteer coordinator, you’ve provided yourself, your partner, and your immediate family a great deal of relief, but it’s important that everyone has the opportunity to seek professional counseling.
It’s also important that your family knows that it’s not selfish of them to pursue their own interests. Routines, socializing, exercise and hobbies help us deal with major upheavals, so let them know that if they’re in good shape, they’ll be better able to support you when you need them most. If they’re taking care of themselves, and they’re taken care of by your support network (and theirs), they’re helping to reduce your stress levels.
As for you, you’re going to be dealing with feelings similar to the Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle:
These stages apply not only to the loss of a loved one but to any bad news or substantial illnesses.
Other resources include:
This Is Living With Cancer: Cancer management and inspiration app that’s useful in fulfilling the “volunteer coordinator” role
American Cancer Society: Find a local support group for yourself or your family, learn about treatments and new research, and get health and wellness advice.
Psychology Today’s Mental Health Provider Directory is the most comprehensive tool for finding the right therapist or psychiatrist for your needs.
There are also several mental health “peer-to-peer” platforms that allow you to obtain counseling via phone, text messaging, or video conferencing.
Have a Financial Safety Net: Supplemental Health Insurance
If you have cancer insurance, you’ll have immediate access to a cash payout to help with the costs associated with cancer care. If your health insurance has high deductibles or coverage caps, supplemental insurance can make up the difference. If you or your partner is worried about taking too much time off work, a critical illness or hospitalization policy can offset lost earnings.
Childcare, hired in-home care, packaged meal kits, and all the little extras that make your recovery just a little easier are within reach if you have a little financial breathing room.
Kick Cancer in the…
Once you’ve taken a deep breath after learning of your cancer diagnosis, and you’ve realized that your doctors, friends, and family have your back, you can focus on just one thing: Getting better, and fighting back. You’ve got this!