The 4 L's of supporting a loved one through cancer
Updated: Jan 17
We know that supporting a loved one with cancer can be hard at times. We all want to help, but many of us don’t know how to. We’re often afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, but if you’re open, honest and show your concern, then you can be a great support.
Cancer and cancer treatments can cause many physical problems for patients, like hair loss, fatigue or vomiting. But a cancer diagnosis can also cause significant social and emotional issues. These are problems that affect how a patient feels, or how they relate to their family and community. They are also sometimes called psychological problems. Social and emotional issues can be difficult for patients to understand and talk about and they can also lead to other problems, like depression and anxiety.
As a friend or family member of someone going through cancer, you can play an important role in providing emotional support to your loved one by remembering the 4 L’s.
The love and support of family and friends is especially important when someone is dealing with cancer. Many studies have found that cancer survivors with strong emotional support tend to better adjust to the changes cancer brings to their lives, have a more positive outlook, and often report a better quality of life.
Emotional support assures the person that they are loved and valued. Showing empathy, thoughtfulness, compassion and genuine concern are all important factors in ensuring they feel loved and supported.
There is no right or wrong way to support your loved one and the most important factor is to simply be there.
Some of the best therapy is just being there to listen.
Cancer patients have thousands of negative thoughts and fears going on inside their head, so sharing them with others can help them reduce anxiety and stress.
A good listener tries to really tune in and listen to a person in the moment. They pay close attention to the person speaking without becoming distracted, bored or losing focus on what is being said. They listen in a non-judgemental way without trying to form counter arguments while the other person is still speaking.
It can be hard to put yourself in your loved ones shoes, but you don’t need to have all the answers. Try to remain sympathetic and attempt to understand.
Here are some tips on how to listen well:
1. Give the speaker your undivided attention
2. Put aside distracting thoughts
3. Avoid being distracted by environmental factors e.g. side conversations
4. Maintain eye contact but don’t stare
5. Listen to the speakers ‘body language’
6. Let the person with cancer lead the conversation and try not to interrupt
7. Show that you’re listening by nodding occasionally and using appropriate facial expressions
8. Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like “yes” and “uh huh”
9. If you’re finding it difficult or upsetting don’t change the subject – say how you feel, this can prevent any awkwardness
10. If they cry, don’t try to cheer them up. Reassure them that it’s OK to be sad and that it’s a normal response to what’s happening to them
11. A friendly touch of the hand can help but if they pull away give them space
12. Try not to give advice unless they have asked for it - just listen
13. Don’t use humour unless they have used it themselves
14. Silences are OK, don’t feel like you have to fill them with words.
For many of us, having a loved one diagnosed with cancer is our first experience of the disease, so learning more about cancer can be a big factor in supporting them going forward.
Learning about their diagnosis is a great way to support them. Your friend or family member will appreciate it because it means that someone took the time to research about their illness and to learn more about it. But it’s also easier for them to explain what is happening to them, if you have a basic understanding of their diagnosis, treatment options, potential side effects etc.
The Internet is a great source of information. There are numerous websites that provide factual information (CancerPal is a great starting point!) and there are several great blogs and forums with personal stories of cancer survivors who have been in similar situations, which will give you a better understanding of the illness, symptoms, treatment and how to support your friend or family member.
We know that cancer patients feel more empowered when they are involved in the decision making process regarding their treatment options. But patients can only make informed decisions if they have full information regarding their treatment options and many cancer patients are simply too overwhelmed, fatigued or ill to fully gather and research all of the available information so once again this is where the support of family and friends can be invaluable.
Whilst a cancer diagnosis is no laughing matter, laughter therapy is gaining popularity as a successful and non-invasive complementary and alternative therapy. Laughter really can be the best medicine.
Studies have found a variety of positive effects of laughter therapy on anxiety, depression, tension, rage, and general health, and it has been found useful for insomnia, pain relief, improving pulmonary function, and increasing immunity.
There have also been specific studies conducted among cancer patients, with laughter therapy demonstrating major positive effects on quality of life, resilience, immunity, anxiety, depression, and stress.
So, how do you make someone who is fighting cancer laugh? Well, this is where you come in. Family and friends usually know the patient’s preferences, interests, and what brings them joy and laughter. A funny movie, joke, or a visit to an amusement park can really help to bust a bad mood and lift their spirit.