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Walking Through Suffering With a Loved One

Offering love and support to a loved one going through cancer is one of the best ways to show you care.
But do you feel like just being there isn’t enough? Do you feel a need to do something? Your loved one may be struggling with advanced cancer or with a cancer recurrence. Doctors may be concerned the cancer isn’t responding to treatment. You may have been told that long-term remission isn’t likely. Or your loved one may have decided to discontinue treatment and live out his or her days to the fullest. Whatever the case may be, if you want to help in a tangible, practical way, don’t offer up a generic, “What can I do to help?” Your question could be too broad for the one struggling through cancer to answer. Learn to listen to your loved one. Sometimes there may be an underlying need that isn’t easily expressed. As you listen carefully, you will be able to discern the real need. As you offer help, be specific in your offer. Give details that will help the suffering one be more willing to accept your help. Family members are often good resources for ideas. It’s important to be respectful of the immediate family and their precious time with the suffering one. Don’t cross those boundaries. Offer to run errands, make meals, do housecleaning or yardwork. Offer to do the menial tasks the family doesn’t have time to handle and let them focus on the more important needs.     

During times of suffering, friendships and relationships can change. Emotional challenges may occur. It’s important to be understanding and accepting. Remember the one suffering is dealing with many things all at once. They may say or do things while in the midst of pain that they would never say or do otherwise. It helps to grow thick skin! Don’t let little hurts turn into big ones. Forgive and forget quickly. Think about how you would feel if the shoe were on the other foot. How would you react under the same type of circumstances?   

Learning to accept body changes and the physical limitations accompanying them are difficult for those who are suffering and often compound the pain. The suffering person may feel their life is totally out of control. A lack of control may cause them to feel extremely insecure. Your presence may help the suffering one feel a little more grounded and safe. It’s important to remember cancer affects not only the body, but the mind and spirit as well.   

Some days of a cancer journey will be more difficult than others. Showing a person they matter in the midst of their suffering is one of the best gifts you can give. A listening ear, a tender heart, and an abundance of compassion could be the best medicine anyone could offer.  Those simple acts of kindness say I love you and I care about you. 

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast Cancer CURE discussion group.
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
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