What can­cer pa­tients want

Post - - Lifestyle - POST RE­PORTER

IN SOUTH Africa, one in four peo­ple are af­fected by can­cer either di­rectly or through the di­ag­no­sis of a friend, fam­ily mem­ber or col­league.

Breast can­cer is the most preva­lent can­cer in the coun­try, with an in­ci­dence rate of one in ev­ery eight women.

Dr Mar­ion Morkel, chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer at San­lam, says this means many peo­ple will go through the emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ence of watch­ing some­one they love bat­tle with can­cer.

“It’s of­ten dif­fi­cult to come to terms with the re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion and to know what to say and how to act,” said Morkel.

A sup­port guide has, there­fore, been de­vel­oped to ad­vise fam­ily and friends how best to sup­port a loved one fight­ing can­cer. The guide is based on feed­back from can­cer pa­tients and sur­vivors about the kind of sup­port they re­ceived or wanted to re­ceive dur­ing treat­ment.

The num­ber one re­quest from par­tic­i­pat­ing can­cer pa­tients, said Morkel, was to be treated like a nor­mal hu­man be­ing and not like a dis­ease.

“As sur­real as it may feel, you need to try to treat a loved one ‘nor­mally’ and not like a pa­tient.”

Let your loved one talk. Even if what they say makes you sad or un­com­fort­able.

Lis­ten and don’t judge. Even if you dis­agree, ul­ti­mately their de­ci­sions are not yours to make. Gen­tly of­fer your opin­ion if it’s asked for.

Be prac­ti­cal. Tan­gi­ble sup­port like look­ing af­ter the kids or do­ing the dishes counts for a lot.

Morkel says many peo­ple tip­toe around a loved one, un­sure of whether to en­gage on a deeper level, but re­sponses from can­cer pa­tients and sur­vivors show that tough, frank con­ver­sa­tions are nec­es­sary.

“One pa­tient said: ‘I needed an hon­est con­ver­sa­tion about what lay ahead and the pos­si­ble path the can­cer would take.’

“Ev­ery­one is so kind and wants the best for you, but you are not al­ways given the chance to mourn the loss of your health.

“Take the op­por­tu­nity to mourn along­side a loved one. Lis­ten, en­gage and ask ques­tions,” he added.

“If a pa­tient makes a de­ci­sion you dis­agree with, try not to be judg­men­tal, but rather ac­cept­ing.

“Re­mem­ber, th­ese de­ci­sions are not yours to make, no mat­ter how close you are to the per­son.

“You may also want to seek coun­selling if you feel like you need some­one to talk too.”

He said the ill­ness and treat­ment also had a mas­sive ef­fect on the per­son’s body, which could es­ca­late rapidly, ren­der­ing a pa­tient un­able to do sim­ple things like wash­ing his or her hair in the shower.

This presents an op­por­tu­nity for fam­ily and friends to of­fer prac­ti­cal phys­i­cal sup­port, whether it’s run­ning er­rands on a per­son’s be­half or tak­ing care of their kids.

“If your part­ner is un­der­go­ing can­cer treat­ments, don’t try and take on ev­ery­thing your­self.

“Ask friends for sup­port, hire some­one to help with the house­work, in­ves­ti­gate the cost of child­care and con­sider whether a full-time care­giver is nec­es­sary.”

When a loved one is di­ag­nosed with can­cer, of­ten friends and fam­ily for­get about the con­sid­er­able fi­nan­cial toll it can have on the pa­tient.

For many peo­ple, ask­ing for money is hard, so a can­cer suf­ferer is of­ten un­likely to seek mone­tary as­sis­tance, even when it’s needed.

Morkel says that if you’re fi­nan­cially able to do so, pre­empt some of the costs of can­cer by of­fer­ing do­na­tions for medicine, petrol, child­care and gro­ceries.

“Can­cer has been known to leave many fam­i­lies des­ti­tute, es­pe­cially when there’s no med­i­cal aid, dread dis­ease or in­come pro­tec­tion in place.”

He adds that hair loss, in women es­pe­cially, can lead to de­pres­sion and a feel­ing of in­ad­e­quacy.

Friends and fam­ily can also help their loved ones to adapt to the new life­style by of­fer­ing gen­uine com­pli­ments and by gift­ing hats and loose-fit­ting, com­fort­able clothes.

While all sup­port is well i n t e n d e d , Morkel cau­tions that some of­fers can be mis­guided. “For many can­cer pa­tients, the most sig­nif­i­cant life­style sup­port came from be­ing in­vited to ‘nor­mal’ ev­ery­day gath­er­ings and events. Feel­ing ex­cluded ex­ac­er­bates feel­ings of be­ing an out­cast be­cause of ill­ness.

“By invit­ing a loved one to join in, you make him or her feel less like a pa­tient.”

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