How To Support Someone We Love With Cancer From Afar?

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When a loved one develops cancer, it is difficult to know what to say or how to approach the subject especially if we are separated by miles. The uncertainty and concern about what is going to happen next. The impact it can have on relationships and the unknown on how to be the best assistance to them.

Doctors diagnosed breast cancer to one of my dearest friend in Mexico. From the moment I heard the news, I couldn't believe it happened to her. She is one of the few persons I know who has the jolliest and positive outlook of life.

As I live in Australia, I didn't hear the news directly from her; I had to take some time to process the situation and to cope with my emotions about the diagnosis before I contacted her.

Distance Only Brings Us Closer

My friend, who I will call Maria, not her real name, is fortunate to have a loving family and many friends who offer her great affection. However, she and I have been very close since our school days and confide in all areas of our lives. 

I wanted to let her know I love her and that she can talk to me about her thoughts and concerns.  While it is not the same as talking in person, it is a way to let her know that I am here for her. 

The Power of the Mind

One thing Maria and I have in common is our way of thinking. We both believe in the power of the mind, and we can comfortably talk about it, and by focusing on more positive thoughts, the body can feel the benefits.

My friend is a firm believer in restoring health through the power of the mind. After the shock of the diagnosis, she reflected on whether her thoughts, emotions, and behaviours had contributed to her condition.
  
In her moments of self-reflection, Maria realised that for years she has been going through stressful life events and some feelings of resentments have been building up as she has frequently given up what she wants for the sake of others.
  
As a result, that emotional response has dominated her personality, it became an unconscious program, and consequently, created the disease that now is afflicting her.

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Can Meditation Promote Healing?

When the doctors discover her condition, their immediate response was to operate as soon as possible. But Maria told the doctors to make more tests in the hope to avoid having an operation as she loves her body and wants to keep it intact.

Now that Maria is more aware of her emotions, she wants to continue gathering with her group of friends who meet weekly to do meditation. Meditation can enhance the capacity to handle the stresses of life and could be an alternative way to cope with both the physical and emotional challenges that come with this disease.

I have been reading to find out more about the condition, and I found a Mindfulness Study done on 2011where they discovered that most participants expressed various positive effects after engaging in the mindfulness program including increased calm, enhanced sleep quality, more energy, less physical pain, and improved well-being.

The word cancer can elicit difficult thoughts and painful emotions, but through mindfulness, it can help bring a sense of peace to many of those living with this disease.

Maintaining the Lines of Communication

When I heard about her condition, I felt deeply saddened and upset. I didn't know what to do or what to say; all I knew is that I wanted to let her now that I love her.

The 10,000 miles between us is not an obstacle from providing valuable support and assistance. So, I have collected a few ideas from different cancer organisations for my guidance and for anyone who reads this article.

Reach for Happy Moments

Maria loves dancing and to play with her 9-year-old granddaughter. I know that talking about these topics makes her smile. When she tells me her stories, her enthusiasm shines.

Encouraging them to watch an easy-going entertainment, a funny movie or a comedy helps to remove them from the immediate situation, and it is therapeutic.

Be respectful of their wishes

Over the years, I have respected the fact that she has never been keen on using any kind of social media communication. In fact, Maria doesn't even use the mobile phone her husband bought for her. The only way I have been contacting her is through her landline or through her husband's mobile. So I feel that a great way to let her know I care is through a personal note, card and a gift she might appreciate.

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Offer Emotional Support and Encouragement

Maria doesn't want people to look at her differently, and she certainly doesn't want people to treat her differently, which is something I respect.

So instead of asking her about the details of her condition, I have been learning about the disease to understand what she is going through, and even though, we are miles apart, she knows she can count on me.

I must admit it is difficult to find a balance between expressing encouragement and displaying false optimism. However, acknowledging it is an incredibly challenging journey, showing support in any way can hopefully ease the situation.

Each cancer journey is different

Even though we might know people who have gone through this condition and some of them have been able to recover, is not likely to reassure or making them feel better.

As each case is different; the more important thing is to be a good listener. They might open up and say what kind of support they need.

Avoid offering advice

Offering advice about something we have no clear experience can appear insensitive.

No matter what our beliefs are, giving advice on how to deal with cancer or trying to convince them to seek some alternative treatment might not be the right course of action, no matter how well-meaning, It is a decision they can only make.

The most important thing to consider is to respect their privacy and be conscious not to overwhelm them to reveal more than they are willing to do. We can do our research independently or get some information through family and friends.

Keep it Light

One aspect that I have to consider is that those who suffer from cancer might change their circle of friends during the illness. 

I have experienced it already as Maria is a lot more reserved than usual, at times she tried to be the jolly person she has always been, but I do understand she has a lot on her mind. 

They might withdraw socially, they might stop being in touch, or their treatment interferes with their normal life. 

Being flexible, consistently present and provide emotional support – even from afar – is the least we can do for someone we love.

Have you supported someone with cancer from far away or close to you? Share the most meaningful you have experienced with us.

With much appreciation

Luci