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Why Every Patient with Cancer Needs a Strong Support System

Web Exclusives — November 1, 2021

We know how busy and stressful life can be with work, family obligations, school, and an endless to-do list. That all becomes much more challenging when you are faced with a cancer diagnosis.

Patients with cancer shouldn’t have to go through their cancer journey alone. It’s simply too much of a burden for any individual to bear. Every patient with cancer can benefit from a reliable support system to help with everything, from coping with the physical and emotional effects of treatment to picking up dinner.

Let’s consider what a cancer support system looks like, and how each person in the system can assist patients through diagnosis, treatment, and recovery.

What Is a Multidisciplinary Care Team?

Cancer care is complex, and each patient is unique. Patients need the expertise of different oncology professionals with highly specialized training and knowledge. This is why a patient’s support system begins with a multidisciplinary care team. An integrated, collaborative team of specialists considers multiple perspectives when diagnosing cancer and developing a personalized treatment plan for each patient.

An essential member of the multidisciplinary care team is the oncology patient navigator. A patient navigator serves as an advocate and information resource for patients as they navigate through the healthcare system. As the patient’s primary point of contact within the multidisciplinary care team, a patient navigator coordinates care with the medical team. The oncology patient navigator’s goals are to provide patients with the information they need to make confident decisions and to help manage the logistics of their cancer care, which are often overwhelming.

The responsibilities of the patient navigator involve explaining the diagnosis, discussing the side effects of the medications, arranging transportation to medical appointments, organizing medical information, dealing with health insurance companies, and finding financial, legal, and social support.

Accepting Help and Support from Friends and Family

Everyone needs people who can be a sounding board or a shoulder to cry on during difficult times. We could all use a hand with day-to-day tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, picking up groceries, and taking the kids to and from school or daycare.

For patients with cancer who have always been independent, it’s not always easy to accept help. When dealing with the stress of cancer, however, there’s nothing wrong with letting others take responsibilities off of your plate. Just keep in mind that people may not know what kind of help you need.

For example, if someone asks what they can do to help, have answers ready. Make lists of one-time and recurring tasks that you need help with. Think about which individuals you trust to handle certain responsibilities. Who is an ideal caregiver? Who can help with running errands? Given the extended networks many people have through social media, support could come from unexpected places and could then rekindle old friendships.

Of course, there will be times when you’re not feeling your best and just don’t want to talk to anyone. That’s okay. If you need some quiet time, just be honest and say you’re having a rough day, thank people for their concern, and ask them to call or visit at another time.

Cancer Support Groups

Cancer support groups allow you to share your experiences and stories with people who have been there, creating another outlet for expressing feelings and emotions. The encouragement and advice shared in cancer support groups can give patients hope and reassurance when facing challenges and difficult circumstances.

Well-known cancer organizations, such as the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, are valuable resources for support group information, in person and online. Many local nonprofit groups, faith-based organizations, and hospitals can also connect you with cancer support groups. Patients who you meet in a support group may even recommend groups and activities that they’ve found helpful.

Financial Support

Healthcare is expensive, and cancer care is no exception. Expenses for traveling to hospitals and doctors can add up quickly. Many patients are forced to miss work for treatment or to stop working completely, creating a huge financial burden. Insurance may cover most of these costs, but there could be a large financial gap to fill, especially when complications occur or when the cancer returns.

Your oncology patient navigator is an invaluable resource for finding financial support along your cancer journey, whereas social workers can help you identify specific patient programs, understand eligibility requirements, and submit paperwork. Many financial programs and services have been created, especially for low-income families, to provide assistance with food, housing, transportation, caregiving, medications, and other expenses.

Newly diagnosed patients with cancer may need medical, emotional, logistical, and/or financial help as they start their cancer journey. Although a cancer support system isn’t built overnight, gradually bringing together the right team of professionals, family, and friends to help can make the journey less stressful.

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