Providing Emotional Support

Going through cancer is often described as an emotional roller coaster, with many ups and downs. As a caregiver, you may see your loved one go through a wide range of emotions. While this can be difficult for both of you, your willingness to listen and offer support will make a difference.

It is hard to watch someone you care about go through so many difficult emotions. There are things you can do, however, to help both of you cope:

Listen to your loved one. It is important to listen without judging or “cheerleading.” We are often tempted to say “you will be fine” when we hear scary or sad thoughts. But simply listening to and validating those feelings can be one of the most important contributions you make.

Do what works. Think about how you’ve helped each other feel better during a difficult time in the past. Was a fun outing a helpful distraction? Or do the two of you prefer quiet times and conversation? Do whatever works for you both, and don’t be afraid to try something new or make modifications to plans that you enjoyed before.

Support your loved one’s treatment decisions. While you may be in a position to share decision making, ultimately it is the other person’s body and spirit that bear the impact of the cancer.

Get information about support groups. Joining a support group gives your loved one a chance to talk with others coping with cancer or caregiving and learn what they do to manage difficult emotions. Sometimes, support groups are led by social workers or counselors. Ask a hospital social worker for a referral, or contact CancerCare. We offer face-to-face, telephone, and online support groups for people with cancer.

If it’s needed, continue your support when your loved one’s treatment is over. This can be an emotional time for many people. Despite being relieved that the cancer is in remission (stopped growing or disappeared), you and your loved one may feel scared that it will return. The end of treatment also means fewer meetings with the health care team, on which you and your loved one may have relied for support. You may also have questions about how treatment ending impacts your role as a caregiver, so getting support during this transition can be helpful.

Recommend an oncology social worker or counselor specially trained to offer advice. If you think your loved one may need additional support coping with his or her emotions during this time, suggest speaking with a professional who can help, such as an oncology social worker.