Assemble Your Cancer Team


The cancer experience can be confusing, complicated and overwhelming, but a team of friends and family can take off the stress.

The medical community has been slow to come around to the fact that those going through cancer need support. In many cancer centers, there are now navigators and supportive care staff, but traditionally they are aimed at organizing your medical care, which is only one piece of your ongoing journey.

For the other areas, it’s time to assemble your team. This used to automatically be family, and for many cancer patients it still is, but for some, family isn’t close enough to provide physical help and are restricted to the phone and mail. So, you have to find your own team to be sure you have all the corners covered.

It amazes me when those newly diagnosed don’t want anyone to know. OK, I am not a private, shy person and others are. But there are times when you need to reach out to get a better outcome and this is one of them.

A team approach means friends and family have designated jobs in your cancer journey. And you can decide what you want from each one and match skills with need. For example, you will want to research your options. Assign a friend who you know has those skills. The same with organizing rides to treatment if you are single or your spouse needs to work — or if you are saving your spouse for other more closely held needs.

Food is another big need. You may not feel like eating, but your family will need to. There are care sites galore now that allow you to create calendars that do all the work for you. One friend can easily manage the site, which will designate your likes and dislikes when it comes to food.

Assign one friend the emotionally supportive role: a daily call, text or email. Or I had one friend who recognized the value in laughter and coordinated funny cards to arrive daily for weeks.

This takes some planning on your part to identify what you will need. When I was diagnosed, I had a 1-year-old. She was nonverbal but definitely aware of what was going on in the house. Her schedule has been disrupted, and even a baby understands the change of energy in the family. I had a life-long friend from college who ran a small Montessori school and my daughter was within weeks of the same age as her son. She called and said, “What can I do?”

I had to think for a while and then told her that a few days of well-placed baby care when my daughter could interact with her son and just play.

Older children need to go to school and be picked up, a task easily arranged on the calendar for friends who say they want to help. Find the friends who have connections to your kids and ask them to do drive time, a wonderful way to also give your children space to do their own thing.

To create a team, make a list of the areas where you need help: a patient advocate to go to doctor’s visits, researcher and wellness coach who specializes in complementary therapies designed to help you relax such as meditation sessions when all the kids are in other ways occupied.

Here are some other areas you may need help: a friend for your spouse to confide in, a spiritual guide or travel agent if you have to go anywhere for treatment.

A particularly valuable member of the team would be one who has gone through the same diagnosis and knows where the best wigs can be found or other solutions to side effects.

And, of course, you need one person to manage the team. One friend who did this said she looked at it like their football team with the patient as the coach and the patient as quarter back. All the players and supportive members make up the team and have their own jobs to do.

Removing stress has been shown to be a critical factor in preventing recurrence, and having a team to help you will certainly do that.

Related Videos
Image of a woman with dark brown hair and round glasses wearing pearl earrings.
A man with a dark gray button-up shirt with glasses and cropped brown hair.
Woman with dark brown hair and pink lipstick wearing a light pink blouse with a light brown blazer. Patients should have conversations with their providers about treatments after receiving diagnoses.
Man in a navy suit with a purple tie. Dr. Saby George talks to CURE about how treatment with Opdivo could mitigate disparities in patients with kidney cancer.
Dr. Andrea Apolo in an interview with CURE
Dr. Kim in an interview with CURE