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Updated: Dec 24, 2021

Better equip yourself to handle the cancer patients mental/emotional needs

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Someone who understands the 10 key topics below will be better equipped to help, more receptive to unspoken needs, as well as empathetic to why the cancer patient is acting the way they are.

#1 - Treat them the same

They do NOT want to be treated differently. They want to know and feel as though they are the same person, and in order to do that, they need you to be onboard. Don’t baby them, don’t treat them as if they are about to die, don’t be excessively nice just because they were diagnosed with cancer. They need help yes, but they don’t want the pity. It can actually infuriate them to feel as though someone is treating them with pity; it did me. It reminded me that I was forced into a place that I would much rather would have avoided.

#2 - They feel alone

They feel alone even when they aren’t physically alone, they still feel alone, possibly even more alone when in crowds. They feel as though there is no one to relate to and that no one understands what they are going through. The solution? Help them find other cancer patients/survivors. Take them to cancer group meetings. Introduce them to your coworker who was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer a year ago. Buy them books about survivors (you can find my book here). I once had someone simply show me a photo of a young lady my age who had survived cancer. Just seeing someone else had actually survived brought a sense of comfort.

#3 - They don't want help, but they need it

They might not want to admit it, especially at first, but they do need help. During treatments, it was extremely frustrating to learn that I was no longer capable of deciding what I did in a day. It was more of whether or not my body would LET me do the things I wanted. I struggled with asking for help because I did not want to admit that something was wrong. I had people in my life that knew this about me, therefore they went ahead and helped in ways that I didn't even know I needed help with (here are some ways to help).

Your loved one is going to be tired, stressed, and overwhelmed and you want to be there to lighten their load, that's why you're reading this. That's wonderful. But it can become a lot on one person so remember, it doesn’t all have to come from you. I understand you want to show you care by doing all that you can, but don’t wear yourself out to the point that you’re no longer functioning. That won’t help anyone. So, what do you do? You learn to delegate these 7 roles to make sure the cancer patient and you both get the support you need.

#4 - The negativity battle is real

They are struggling with negative thoughts. He/she has thought (and still does) about the possibility that they are dying. Years after the fact, my mother was shocked to hear that I had these recurring thoughts throughout my battle. She had no idea I was in such a dark place because all I ever answered with was “I’m fine” when someone asked about me. Yet, death was a hard possibility I felt as though I couldn’t escape. Whether or not they truly believe they will die is up to each individual person, however I can guarantee some pretty scary thoughts have crossed their mind. How can you help? Pretending death is not a possibility isn’t productive, yet hearing you speak it out loud is may be too scary and real. I suggest practicing these tips in order to encourage open and honest conversations (Join the newsletter to be notified when this post goes live). Then listen, comfort, and be honest.

#5 - Your mindset matters

They need you to be the force of positivity. As stated earlier, they are battling some pretty negative thoughts, which doesn’t leave much room for them to come up with their own happy thoughts. This is quite possibly the most beneficial thing my mother did for me during my treatment. She stayed positive, happy, and bright. Yes, it annoyed me during the oncology appointments and treatments. But just because it’s a negative situation that no one wants a part of, that doesn’t mean that you can’t stay positive on the cancer patient’s behalf. Now, there is a fine line here. Don’t go to the extent that they feel as though you’re not understanding and emphatic to what they are going through (that hurts). But staying positive, laughing, and encouraging fun is essential. If it wasn’t for my mother, my treatment would have been as miserable as I felt. So, whether you feel like it or not, it’s up to you to bring the laughter…and the games. That means, you need to do some work on your end to care for your own mental/emotional health. Get tips here (Join the newsletter to be notified when this post goes live).

#6 - Moodiness is normal

There will be some major mood swings, especially as time goes on. Your role here? Again, it’s a hard one. They may not mean to take it out on you, but they most likely will. Try to remember that they are a human dealing with a lot of emotional and mental damage. They don’t know how to handle what has been thrown at them and therefore lack the abilities to process and cope. This will lead to a lot of emotions being compressed deep down inside…until the pressure becomes too overwhelming that they blow up. The solution? They need to find a productive outlet for their emotions, and you might need to help them figure that out. Visit this post for ideas on positive outlets (Join the newsletter to be notified when this post goes live).

#7 - Don't judge their decisions

They may make shocking and irrational decisions from time to time. Don’t get offended if the decisions can seem a bit selfish. This is normal. If you thought you were going to die, try to think of the last-minute things you would try to accomplish/see. Now maybe you can understand why they wanted to go stay on that beach when they can’t really afford it. Or why they got a tattoo without the approval of the cancer team. Or maybe they finally took the leap and decided to quit the job they’ve hated for years. Whatever it is, it will most likely be shocking to you, but try to remember that they are scared and trying to live the life they have left to the fullest.

#8 - Seeing you cry can trigger them

They don’t want to see you cry. My mother started bawling in my first oncology appointment. I know this is going to sound harsh (and it was) but I told her to leave if she couldn’t gather herself. She stormed out, madder than I think I’ve ever seen her. Why did I do that? Seeing her sitting there crying, I immediately felt as though she thought I was going to die…because that’s what I was thinking. Seeing her fall apart made me want to do the same. Yet, I knew that I couldn’t break down then and there or I wouldn’t ever be able to gather myself, and that appointment was important. I needed to be as “together” as I possibly could be. Yes, it’s okay for you to be human and cry. You’re not expected to be a superhuman, yet I suggest trying your best to get those emotions out before the appointments.

#9 - They might be out of tune with your emotions

They most likely aren’t considering your feelings. Yes, me kicking my mother out of my oncology appointment was mean and not very considerate of my mother’s feelings. I felt horrible about it afterward (and still do). She was going through possibly the hardest thing in her life, her daughter had just been diagnosed with cancer. I should have had some empathy for why she was sobbing in the corner, right? Yes, but did I? No. And it might be the same for your loved one. They might be so caught up in their own feelings and emotions that they do things that really hurt you. Let me apologize on their behalf. They’re sorry. They really are. They are just a mess right now…not themselves…not handling things very well. Does that give them a free pass? Absolutely not. But is now a good time to say something? Probably not. Does it mean that they no longer love or respect you? No. It just means their world was turned upside down and they have no idea how to handle anything. Especially someone else’s feelings when they can’t even handle their own.

#10 - The finish line is not the last treatment

It’s not “over” after treatment ends. After the last treatment, the physical part will slowly start to improve but the mental and emotional battle begins. During treatment, they are mainly focused on just surviving. They push the feelings and emotions down without processing them in order to simply keep moving forward. After the cancer patient completes treatment and receives that clean bill of health, it still feels as though there’s a lingering shadow they can’t shake. And it’s a scary shadow. To put it bluntly, they are scared that the cancer could come back to finish the job at any moment. How can you help? Don’t act as though their journey has come to an end after treatment. The mental aspect (which is just as hard, if not harder) has just begun. Yes, you can throw a last-chemo party, but avoid the phrases such as “You’re done,” or “It’s over.” I would even suggest avoiding “You beat cancer” unless they bring that statement up on their own. More on that here (Join the newsletter to be notified when this post goes live).


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Hi! I'm Jessica

I'm a Stage IV cancer survivor, author, and creative business owner, on a mission to help those who are struggling with the devastation of a cancer diagnosis...



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