Social Support to Stay Strong During Cancer!

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By our very nature, human beings are social creatures.  We long to interact and be stimulated by others.  Human beings need other people in order to survive, it’s just that simple. Who doesn’t crave affection, love, and support?

However, although we all need a hug every so often, support is most important and beneficial when we are sick. Think back to all of the times when you felt sick as a child, besides some hot soup, one of the things that would make you feel better was a big hug from your mommy. It was like a sudden calmness and feeling of well-being would travel through your veins. I still feel like this when I am sick. Now imagine being sick with something icky and yucky like cancer. Having a strong support system during your cancer journey is extremely important. That feeling of not being alone and having people to talk to, laugh with, cry with, and connect with is vital to our overall health.

It not only makes us feel good, but there is science behind it too. Studies have shown that being with loved ones when we are sick releases many important hormones such as dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin into our bloodstream which help us feel better and also help to strengthen our immune systems. These hormones also help decrease inflammation, increase oxygen and circulation, and help our bodies find and eliminate cancer cells. Receiving love and social support actually helps our bodies to heal. Sign me up!

They say that people with social connections live longer than those with fewer social connections. Studies by the American Association for Cancer Research have shown that social connections for cancer patients can actually help extend survival time. For instance, in a study entitled “Social Support and Survival in Young Women with Breast Carcinoma”, it was shown that breast cancer patients that increased their social connections and support system during their cancer journeys were able to reduce their risk of death by a whopping 70%!!! That is truly amazing!

For the cancer patient, social support can come in various forms. Some cancer patients find that the support and comfort from their friends and family is all that is needed to help them stay strong during their cancer journey.  While other cancer patients find that although they love the support from their friends and family, they still need more – these patients tend to benefit from joining cancer support groups and connecting with other cancer patients or cancer survivors. For this group of cancer patients, they feel the need to interact and connect with others who understand what they are going through on a personal level.

Cancer support groups can act as a catharsis for cancer patients and their caregivers as it allows them to release built-up emotions, as well as helps them to talk about things they normally would not feel comfortable talking about with just anybody. In these settings, they do not feel ashamed, judged, or alone. Rather, they feel deeply connected with complete strangers just on the basis of sharing similar experiences. Additionally, some cancer patients and their caregivers benefit from hearing information and advice from others, and receiving tips on how to cope during the various stages of a cancer diagnosis. I have met some wonderful and inspiring individuals (and continue to do so) on my cancer journey. I continue to share stories, advice, recipes, tips, and information with my “cancer posse”. You guys are great!

It’s important to stay connected during your cancer journey, even though there may be times when you want to be alone. Sometimes we have to push ourselves to interact with others and be sociable. Trust me, I know it can be extremely difficult at times, but the more we pull away, the worse it is for our health. You read the science, social connections help our bodies to heal and fight cancer. Although we want to retain our independence, it is okay (and very beneficial) to ask others for support and assistance along the way. Our bodies need it in order to repair themselves. So reach out and call a friend, or meet up for a coffee (or green tea), or attend a cancer support group, or yoga class. Whatever makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, do it!

It can be difficult for some cancer patients, as sometimes people tend to distance themselves from someone undergoing cancer treatments or during a cancer journey. I’ve spoken to numerous cancer patients that have had friends tend to shy away from them when they learned they had cancer. Some people cannot cope with this type of news and therefore turn away, others are ignorant and/or selfish. If this is the case, I wouldn’t worry too much about these types of individuals, I feel sorry for them, to be quite honest. Perhaps they will come around, perhaps they won’t. Don’t focus on the negative, instead focus on all of the amazing people in your life that truly care for you and want you to be well.

Personally, I am super thankful for the amazing support system that I have.  My family and friends are are truly incredible. Through every step of the way, I have always had so many people to lean on and turn to. I believe that this has had a huge impact on my previous recoveries. In my fight against cancer I have always felt loved, supported, and encouraged. And I want to take a few moments to personally thank my friends and family (you know who you are), as you have touched my life in such a profound way. I couldn’t have battled cancer without you in the past, and I wouldn’t be able to stay strong during my recent journey through metastatic cancer and the road to health. I truly adore you, from the bottom of my heart. My love goes out to all of you. xo

“To the world, you may be just one person, but to one person you may be the world.”

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