Continuing Care to Those Affected by Cancer's Aftermath

After losing someone to cancer, people may need continued support.

I am lucky enough to say that my sister made it through cancer. I have met many who have not been so lucky. Through this experience, I have met many families who had to say goodbye to loved ones, both young and old, thanks to the illness of cancer.

Each family had their own journey and walked the path just a little bit differently than the others. The common theme that I have found amongst all of these grieving families has been the need for support, not just during the disease process, but also after the loss of a loved one. While I cannot speak to the pain of losing a loved one to cancer, I can attest to the support one receives during and after a bout with cancer.

So many people surround you and do all that they can to ensure that you are OK. When in the hospital, nurses are always around, while doctors frequently ask what they can do. Friends try to seek solutions to make things better and, as a family member, all I wanted was to make life easier for my sister. But now that she is in remission, that isn’t the reality that we live in. I can only imagine how much more difficult that abrupt end to care would have been had we suffered that unimaginable loss.

While there is an understanding that many have come before you and done exactly what you are now doing, it somehow doesn’t make the experience seem any less isolating. As I witnessed families and friends say goodbye to those they love, I noticed that a hole was left by that loss — not just in the sense of heartbreak, but also in a quite tangible sense, too.

Nothing can change the loss or heartache that is sadly being endured. Actions and words may provide a sense of solace or comfort in that moment of need. Sensitivity and assurances that people still care, despite it being “over” still matters. Help those who are grieving to transition to the new normal and help them to know that even though the end did not look as they hoped, that they are not alone.

Just as with the entire process, the needs of a family or individual may be drastically different from one person to the next. If people are feeling anything similar to what I felt after losing my fiancé, they may not even know what they need. That doesn’t mean that doing nothing or staying silent is the right thing to do. Even when words fail us or actions seem inadequate, in the wake of such tragedy, simple humanity is so badly needed.

A transition occurs after losing a loved one to cancer. A couple may go into the hospital, but instead of discharging together, a widow goes home alone. Or a family that was once five is now four after the loss of a young son and brother. That is not a process that anyone should endure alone.

It helps to provide resources and to help them to know that their loved one isn’t just a statistic, but a human. Having witnessed the aftermath of the storm that is cancer, I know that it means so much. Sending words of sympathy after such a loss can often reinforce that the one they loved wasn’t just another patient that passed through an oncology ward.

Life is like a story and sadly, cancer is a chapter for many. Even sadder is that all stories come to an end and in those that contain cancer, it isn’t always a happy ending. But that doesn’t mean that one story matters more than the next, or that some are good while others are bad. What it does mean is that we need to remember that although one story ends, many novellas within that story continue to be written.