The need for emotional support doesn't stop when treatment ends. There are many ways to receive emotional support that can improve your quality of life and help you manage the challenges you face at any stage of survivorship.
This information is meant to be a general introduction to this topic. The purpose is to provide a starting point for you to become more informed about important matters that may be affecting your life as a survivor and to provide ideas about steps you can take to learn more. This information is not intended nor should it be interpreted as providing professional medical, legal and financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information. Please read the Suggestions and Additional Resources documents for questions to ask and for more resources
Support systems are the people, organizations, and activities that help you during your cancer journey. There are many types of support systems including emotional, social, spiritual, financial, medical and legal. This document focuses on the ways emotional support can benefit cancer survivors. An emotional support system includes the people who offer the support you need to deal with emotional challenges during your experience with cancer. They listen and offer encouragement and comfort during difficult times.
How can emotional support systems help survivors?
Being a cancer survivor can create added stress in your life. You may prefer to deal with these stressors on your own. However, many survivors find that it is helpful to talk with others about concerns and get emotional support from those who understand. Cancer can also affect the people in your emotional support system. Sharing experiences may help them as well.
There may be special benefit from emotional support if you:
- Often feel lonely
- Need support when dealing with the health care team
- Rarely laugh anymore
- Have trouble sleeping well
- Shy away from intimacy
- Spend little time interacting with your loved ones and friends
- Feel disconnected from your faith-based beliefs and support
Some survivors provide their own emotional support by taking care of health issues and doing things in their own way. Others build emotional support systems of a few people or many including family, friends, co-workers and others.
There may be those individuals in your life who help you in different ways throughout your experience with cancer. However, if you do not have a support network and are feeling lonely, there are nonprofit cancer support resources to offer support. They will help you find others to talk with who understand what you are going through. For example, emotional support may be found through a support group, a free telephone counseling service, or an online chat group.
Emotional support systems may include:
- Family and other loved ones
- Friends and neighbors
- Cancer support groups
- Health care team members
- Faith-based groups and clergy
- Counselors and therapists
- Other survivors
Issues that might be shared within an emotional support system include:
- Being fearful about getting cancer again
- Worrying about finances and keeping affordable health insurance
- Questioning faith or other beliefs
- Worrying about being able to have children
- Worrying about existing relationships
- Concerns about sharing your cancer experience with new friends
- Concerns about finding or keeping a job
If you have an emotional support system in place or would like to create one, you might want to think about how you want to communicate with your emotional support system. Everyone has a part to play in order for there to be good communication. Sometimes, you may have to do a little more by asking questions and telling others exactly what kind of help and support you need. Other times, the people in your emotional support system might communicate their concerns and ask you questions. Try to keep the lines of communication open. There will always be a need to talk openly and listen to one another.
There may be times when you want more emotional support than others. Even if you don't feel the immediate need to get help from your emotional support system, sometimes it is nice to know they are there for you if you need them.
If you have a need for support around specific issues, it can be relatively easy to bring up and discuss the issues that are of concern to you. For example, you might start the conversation by saying something such as:
- "I know that we have already talked about this, but do you think I could talk to you more about how confused I am about my spirituality?"
- "I just hate that I have to go back for my annual check-up. It makes me feel insecure and frightened again."
Will emotional support systems always be helpful for survivors?
Even if you feel your life is full of people who love and support you most of the time, you may experience strains in your relationships with those within your support system. Signs of stressors in an emotional support system may include frequent arguments, finding less to talk about, or having fewer contacts with those who were once close to you.
If there are stressors, open communication is usually the best approach to improving the relationship. Good communication requires give and take. It is important for both parties to participate in the sharing of concerns and what is needed to by both to feel supported.
It is possible that some friends may not feel comfortable providing support because of their own fears about cancer. They generally cannot help having these types of fears. If you lose touch with a friend, it is perfectly normal to feel sad about the loss. During your cancer journey, be patient with yourself and give yourself time to adjust. Spend time with the people in your emotional support system that are able to help you.
Your emotional support system may change over time. You may lose touch with some people. It is possible that you could feel closer to some people during or after treatment than you did before the cancer diagnosis. You might make new friends who become part of your emotional support system and continue to be close friends for the rest of your life.
This document was produced in collaboration with:
Lori Worden, MSW, LCSW
Association of Oncology Social Work
Harpham, Wendy Schlessel, After Cancer: A Guide to Your New Life. HarperPerennial, 1995
Barbara Hoffman. "Cancer Survivor's Almanac: Charting Your Journey." National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, 1996
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The suggestions that follow are based on the information presented in the Detailed Information document. They are meant to help you take what you learn and apply the information to your own needs. This information is not intended nor should it be interpreted as providing professional medical, legal and financial advice. You should consult a trained professional for more information. Please read the Additional Resources document for links to more resources.
- Think about things you might want or need from your emotional support system.
Sometimes people in your emotional support system want to help you, but are not sure what to do. Make a list of the things they can do that would be helpful to you. This way, when people in your emotional support system ask how they can help, you can offer them suggestions.
Examples of things ways that others can do to provide support include:
- Visiting you at home
- Shopping for groceries or other items
- Cleaning the house
- Preparing meals
- Sending you inspirational stories or messages
- Going to health care appointments with you
- Providing transportation to appointments or events
Easy ways that emotional support can be provided include:
- Sending cards and notes with positive messages
- Doing chores around the home
- Having a long talk and listening
- Adding another to a prayer list
- Find a support group that meets your needs.
Share your concerns and feelings with people you trust. Talking with another person about your feelings and what is causing them can help you understand more clearly what you are feeling and help you find ways to manage your feelings.
Support groups provide a safe environment to share stories, learn new ways to handle difficult situations, and talk about the emotions that you are feeling. You will see different styles of coping with stress and adjusting to the experience of cancer. If you are uncomfortable talking about certain subjects with your family or friends, a support group may offer you a place to talk freely about what is important to you.
Ways to find out more about support groups in your area:
- Ask a member of your health care team for suggestions. Most cancer programs offer support groups for cancer survivors and their family members right in the clinic or hospital.
- Call a nearby cancer center or university hospital and ask about support groups.
- View LIVESTRONG's navigation services online at LIVESTRONG.org/Get-Help or call 1.855.220.7777 for information on support groups.
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The resources listed below provide more detailed information and support services to help you with finding support. Please read the Detailed Information and Suggestions document for more information and questions to ask.
LIVESTRONG Navigation Services
Online: Complete an intake form through the LIVESTRONG website.
Phone: 1.855.220.7777 (English and Spanish)
Navigators are available for calls Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Central Time). Voicemail is available after hours.
LIVESTRONG offers assistance to anyone affected by cancer, including the person diagnosed, loved ones, caregivers and friends. The program provides information about fertility risks and preservation options, treatment choices, health literacy and matching to clinical trials. Emotional support services, peer-to-peer matching and assistance with financial, employment and insurance issues are also available. To provide these services, LIVESTRONG has partnered with several organizations including Imerman Angels, Navigate Cancer Foundation, Patient Advocate Foundation and EmergingMed.
American Cancer Society (ACS)
Email: Submit questions in English or Spanish from the "Contact Us" page.
TTY for deaf or hard of hearing callers: 1-866-228-4327
The American Cancer Society (ACS) offers information about many of the challenges of cancer and survivorship. You can search for information by cancer type or by topic. ACS provides a list of support groups in your area. You can join online groups and message boards. Some information on the website is available in Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese. ACS specialists can answer questions 24 hours a day by phone or email.
Association of Cancer Online Resources (ACOR)
ACOR.org provides cancer survivors an opportunity to meet and talk with other survivors online. This organization provides over 100 online communities for cancer patients, families and caregivers. These include disease-specific groups for many types of common and rare cancers. Discussions are generally related to cancer treatment and survival. Some mailing lists and discussion groups are available in languages other than English. ACOR will create additional online communities focused on cancer upon request.
Cancer Hope Network
Phone: 1-877-HOPE NET (1-877-467-3638)
This number is answered Monday-Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (EST). Voicemail is available after hours.
Cancer Hope Network is a not-for-profit organization that provides free and confidential one-on-one support to cancer patients and their families. They offer support by matching cancer patients or family members with trained volunteers who have already undergone and recovered from a similar cancer experience. You can submit your request by phone or by email. A volunteer will try to contact you within 24 hours.
Email: Send email through the website.
CaringBridge is a nonprofit organization that offers free, easy-to-create web sites to connect family and friends during a health crisis. This site can help ease the burden of keeping loved ones updated. It provides a way for them to send their support and encouragement. Step-by-step instructions are provided for creating and updating the site you create.
MyLifeLine.org Cancer Foundation
MyLifeLine.org encourages cancer patients and caregivers to create free, customized websites that allow the patient to communicate easily and receive the help they need during and beyond cancer treatment. The goal of creating these free websites is to empower patients to build an online support community of family and friends to foster connection, inspiration, and healing.
Patient Tools: See and example of a personal website mylifeline.org/testsite/
My Updates—Blog about your experience
Inspiring Messages—Receive messages from friends and family
Helping Calendar—Post what help is needed with meals, rides, visiting hours, etc.
Giving Angels—Create a financial assistance page
Learning Links—Educate your support network on your cancer
Laughing Medicine—Include funny jokes and books to lighten the mood
Photo Gallery—Post pictures to share what you are experiencing
Email: email@example.com Phone: 1-800-998-9938
This website provides information and fact sheets on different types of cancer. It also offers guidance on asking your family and friends for emotional support and other issues related to life after a cancer diagnosis. Included are suggestions for talking with children and teenagers.
U.S. Institutes of Health - National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Online: Online assistance is available in English or Spanish through the LiveHelp instant messaging system. This service is available Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. (EST)
Email: Send an email through the "Need Help?" section of the website
TTY for deaf and hard of hearing callers: 1-800-332-8615
Information specialists answer calls Monday-Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. local time.
The National Cancer Institute's website provides accurate information about the challenges cancer can bring. You can search for information by cancer type or topic. You can find information about treatment, financial and insurance matters. You can also learn how treatments in development work and search for a clinical trial in your area. This site also has a good dictionary of cancer terms, drug information and other publications.
Cancer information specialists can answer your questions about cancer and help you with quitting smoking. They can also help you with using this Web site and can tell you about NCI's printed and electronic materials. The knowledgeable and caring specialists have access to comprehensive, accurate information on a range of cancer topics, including the most recent advances in cancer treatment. The service is confidential, and information specialists spend as much time as needed for thorough and personalized responses.
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