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Treating Metastatic Breast Cancer

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SOCIAL VOICES
The Healing Power of Support Systems During Cancer Treatment

Medically Reviewed By Meredith Goodwin, MD, FAAFP
breast cancer_Dr Alexea Gaffney_The Healing Power of Support Systems During Cancer Treatment

As a physician, breast cancer survivor, and breast health advocate, I have navigated the multifaceted journey of cancer treatment both professionally and personally. Through this dual lens, I’ve gained invaluable insights into the profound impact support systems have on treatment outcomes and overall well-being. Emotional support from family, friends, and support groups isn’t just comforting; it’s healing.

During cancer treatment, I, like many people, experienced a whirlwind of emotions that range from fear and anxiety to hope and relief. Emotional support from loved ones provided a crucial cushion in the face of emotional and physical distress. Studies have consistently indicated Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source that patients with robust support systems have improved outcomes and exhibit better psychological resilience. Support helps us to be better equipped to handle the stress of diagnosis and the rigors of treatment, resulting in a more positive outlook and potentially even better clinical outcomes.

I definitely give credit to my family, friends and community for my ability to cope and parent throughout my cancer treatments. I never went to appointments, procedures, consults, or chemo sessions alone. Who was going with me was equally important as the dates and times of each of my appointments. Patients surrounded by supportive family and friends are more likely to adhere Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source to their treatment protocols and schedules. Whether it’s sharing a reminder to take medication, providing transportation to appointments, or helping to manage treatment side effects, these practical aspects of support directly influence treatment efficacy. The presence of a supportive network decreases the likelihood of missed appointments and can help manage the complexities of cancer care logistics. 

The importance of support groups

Support groups play a pivotal role by providing a platform for shared experiences. Connecting with others who are also navigating the cancer journey helped alleviate my feelings of isolation and provided a sense of community. These groups offer a safe space to express fears and celebrate milestones, fostering a collective healing process. Within the cancer support community, I have found lots of strategies for coping with cancer treatments and their side effects. It’s where I learned about icing my hands and feet for paclitaxel (Taxol) infusions to decrease nerve damage/neuropathy and where I learned that acetaminophen (Tylenol) and loratadine (Claritin) can be taken in advance to avoid bone pain from filgrastim (Neupogen) and pegfilgrastim (Neulasta) injections. Having women facing the same obstacles to lean on has been critical for coping with cancer. 

Ask for help

Get comfortable with vulnerability. As difficult as it may be to ask for help, it is critical to your survival.  Effective communication starts with openness. Being clear about your physical, emotional, and practical needs can help your loved ones understand how best to support you. It’s important to articulate what you’re feeling and what type of assistance you would find helpful. Do you need a listening ear, do you want assistance sorting through and processing your feelings, do you need someone to help with tasks of daily living, or do you need someone to accompany you to doctor appointments? 

No matter where you are along the journey, you have surely heard the phrase “let me know if you need anything.” Often, family and friends are eager to help but may not know how. Educating them about your specific type of cancer, the treatment process, and how it will impact you physically helps them understand what to expect; it  can empower them and make your support system more effective. Knowledge can demystify the process, reduce fear, and foster a more supportive environment. So if you need help with your laundry, your kids driven to and from school, or a neighbor to set up a meal train, just ask! Trust me, they’ll be happy to help and to know that they are meeting your specific needs.

Set boundaries and stay flexible

Just like any friendship or relationship, the caregiver-breast cancer survivor relationship also requires boundaries.  Setting clear boundaries is crucial for maintaining your well-being. Let your support circle know when you need space and when you need company. Establishing these boundaries can prevent feelings of overwhelm and resentment, and helps manage interactions on your terms.

Your needs may change over time, and different stages of treatment require different types of support. Flexibility in how support is given can make all the difference in maintaining a positive support dynamic. Encourage your support squad to remain flexible and open to your changing needs.

An actively involved support system is vital to a successful cancer treatment journey. As someone who has stood on all sides of this journey, as provider, patient, and supporter, I cannot overstate the importance of having a network of caring individuals by your side. By fostering open communication and educating your loved ones about your needs, you can enhance your support system’s effectiveness and make your cancer journey a shared one. Remember, no one should have to face cancer alone! With the right support, you can navigate this challenging path with resilience, courage and hope.

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  1. Adam A, et al. (2020). Availability, accessibility, and impact of social support on breast cancer treatment among breast cancer patients in Kumasi, Ghana: A qualitative study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7162460

Medical Reviewer: Meredith Goodwin, MD, FAAFP
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