Even the most positive thinking of cancer survivors would struggle to deal with some of the reactions of others when dealing with their illness, according to research undertaken by RedArc Nurses for National Cancer Survivors Day (Sunday 7 June 2020).
Although unlikely to be deliberately hurtful, even unintentionally tactless remarks can cause stress, anxiety and emotional consequences for individuals who are already dealing with the impact the disease has on their personal and professional lives.
During the course of its regular interactions with around 650 people with cancer each year, RedArc logged some of the following comments that friends, family, colleagues and employers have made to those with cancer:
- “You are cancer free now so you should be happy”
- “Will you lose your hair?”
- A husband said to his wife that he is finding her illness and treatment ‘very draining’
- People telling horror stories about treatments and how they saw others suffer in the past
- Other people becoming very emotional and needing the person with cancer to support them instead of the other way round.
- People saying that the person with cancer will be fine and that they look so well, when they are feeling incredibly unwell
Many of these comments and situations arose from interactions from those who were well-meaning, but where understanding and tact would have been considerably more helpful. However, it shows that many people, even some very close to the person with cancer, can feel uncomfortable discussing the disease which can then lead to unconscious insensitivities. In such situations, it can be invaluable for the person with cancer to have a professional to talk to.
Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc said: “For some people, dealing with cancer is a very personal issue and they may choose to keep their diagnosis, treatment and progress to themselves. Dealing with the disease itself is emotionally draining and so when people do share their news and it is returned with negativity or insensitivity, these comments can be hard to shake off – even if they are outnumbered by supportive messages from others. And where someone is well supported, they may deal with numerous emails, texts and messages and that can in itself be overwhelming; so for all of these reasons, it’s clear to see why people with cancer need their own, independent support system.”
Third-party emotional support is available via some individual and group protection products, and directly from some intermediaries and other affinity groups, and can provide a medically trained individual who is able to provide emotional support throughout a cancer diagnosis and treatment. This includes help in preparing for difficult conversations with children and other family members, through to dealing with colleagues and employers. RedArc nurses can also help individuals evaluate their return–to–work options and suggest coping strategies and adaptations that can be made in their working practices.
All of the emotional support is underpinned by medical expertise and the understanding of individual conditions and their related implications. Specific medical support includes help in navigating the NHS and private healthcare systems, the provision of a wealth of information from DVDs to factsheets, signposting to specialist charities and self-help groups, and sourcing medical equipment & aids.
Christine Husbands concluded: “Unfortunately we’re never going to be able to eradicate the comments made by others but it is possible to put in place support that helps someone with cancer deal with difficult situations as and when they arise.”