You know that social support is important as you go through breast cancer treatment.
In fact, when treatment ends and that support begins to wane, you can find yourself feeling lonely, abandoned and even depressed.
Often it’s hard to find your bearings after breast cancer treatment when you realize that life isn’t going back to what you were expecting.
This is not only a common experience for you as a survivor, but it also impacts the ones who were closest to you during treatment.
They often struggle with figuring out how to move forward and how to deal with the changes in you and in their lives.
The important thing for everyone is to talk about it.
By facing changing priorities and expectations, you not only strengthen your social support system but you help your loved ones understand what’s happening, so they feel safe and they understand where and how they are needed in your life.
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-story of taco night
This experience of being released from treatment, told you’re cancer-free seems like it would be the best news you could ever hear, and as you’re going through treatment you look forward to that day and hearing those words.
Yet, when they finally come, of course, you’re happy to hear them but something else happens that you don’t expect and that most people don’t talk about.
You find yourself feeling alone, even depressed.
If you’ve had children, You’ll remember that feeling of the elation of giving birth just to find yourself a short time later experiencing an empty feeling when out of habit you put your hand on your no longer pregnant belly and there’s no feeling of the movement inside of you that you’ve marveled at for so many months.
That’s not to say you miss having cancer in you, but you miss the medical attention, you miss the social support of all those people who rallied for you, and now here you are, on your own but not like you used to be...never like you used to be again.
You may feel like you have to suck it up and just move forward. I mean, you certainly don’t want to let anyone in on these thoughts and look like you’re ungrateful for surviving or god forbid you're not the warrior that we breast cancer survivors have been branded to be.
Well, I’m here to tell you that that is the worst move you could make. Here’s the thing...cancer is a confusing thing to go through for you as a survivor and for those around you.
You have to remember that just as you are finding so much has changed after treatment, your support people didn’t know this would happen either.
In addition to the fact that they are dealing with their own fear, confusion, and let’s be honest...a sense of discomfort.
You know as well as I do that it’s difficult for most people to know what to say to someone with cancer and that carries over to when treatment ends as well.
Others don’t know if they should talk about it, or ask about it and you don’t want to keep bringing it up because you don’t want to sound like you're complaining or that you're ungrateful for living.
Yet, there are things you need to talk about because you’re struggling...yikes, what a big hot mess this can be.
The national cancer institute lists these as common feelings that a loved one of a cancer survivor may experience after treatment ends:
They may miss the support from your health care team and the family and friends who were checking in more frequently and helping out when you were being treated.
They may feel pressured to go back to normal when just like you, they’re not feeling it yet, they may be feeling unsafe because your near-constant medical supervision is missing.
They may not feel comfortable leaving you for long periods of time because they’re worried you’re not strong enough or they’re just traumatized and concerned that something will happen to you.
That’s some powerful stuff.
In the booklet “when someone you love has completed cancer treatment,” by the national cancer institute, it says that one of the most common reactions by survivors caregivers after treatment is, “Now what
do I do?” Many have to think about how to adjust to this “new normal.”
So, yeah, it’s not all about us...but the good news there is that you no longer have to think it’s all about you or that you’re the only one adjusting to this situation. You don’t have to feel bad that you’re some kind of a burden on your loved ones or your colleagues.
You just have to recognize that best-case scenario they’re just not sure how to act or what to say, and worst-case scenario, they’re going through a mirror image of the feelings and the struggle that you’re going through.
Knowing this gives you the opportunity to shift the energy by strengthening your social support, clarifying what truly is happening with you, not just what they’re thinking or expecting, and by helping them understand what you need, what has changed, and how you can help each other.
I’m going to give you steps and resources to do this in just a few minutes.
First let’s talk for a minute about why it’s important to strengthen your social network, aside from the fact that it will help them out as you just heard. But what will it do for your health?
Well, if you haven't listened to episode 18 where I talked about an amazing book, “radical remission” you should definitely go back and listen to that episode. But the point I want to make from it is that the research that Dr. Kelly turner talks about in this book found that 1 out of the 9 things that cancer patients did in an effort to support their own healing from late-stage disease was to strengthen their support system.
The saying, “it takes a village” is no joke. We, humans, thrive off of the love and energy we exchange with each other when we’re being supportive, positive, and compassionate with ourselves and others.
For some reason though, throughout my lifetime, our world has become less and less community-centric and more and more isolated and disconnected from each other and from the impact we have on each other.
So we have to make a conscious effort to infuse these connections and interactions back into our lives.
According to the Mayo Clinic a strong social support system has the following benefits:
These are things like depression, feeling lonely, turning to substances like alcohol and drugs to dull our emotions, increased risk of heart disease and brain disorders.
Not cool stuff.
So here’s what you can do to build a stronger social support system for your own well being and the well being of those around you that not only need you but like to feel needed by you…
First, decide what types of support are meaningful to you.
Do you need more emotional support, someone to bear all of your thoughts and fears without judgment or unsolicited advice? Or someone to motivate you and support your healthy lifestyle plan by giving you inspiration, and accountability where you tell them you need it.
Do you need instrumental support, like help around the house, financial assistance, transportation, or any other physical, tangible things that you don’t have the energy or the resources to handle?
Or do you need informational support? Are you feeling lost because you just don’t know what’s out there for you, what options you have, what tools you can access, or what next steps you can take to even start figuring out a direction?
And yes, you may very well need all three types of support.
Once you determine this, start listing all the people who you think would be good at giving you this kind of support.
Try to keep this list small. If you choose one person to give you all three types of support, that’s ok too. Just know what you need so you can clearly communicate it.
The fact is that developing social support can take energy too because once you do this, you have to stay engaged.
It’s on you to keep the line of communication open, to reach out and to give back. That’s why I recommend a short list of awesome souls who will champion you in every possible way.
Take your time creating that list because you want to make really meaningful choices.
Now that you’ve got your people in mind and you know what you need to tell them. You have to figure out how to do it and then commit to doing it.
Now, don’t make the mistake of thinking that this is just a practice of telling people what you need and then you’re thinking you don’t want to end up sounding like a victim. NONoNO this is also a practice of seeing what they may need from ou and offering reassurances.
For instance, have you noticed that you husband, partner or kids are suddenly very protective of you? Perhaps they need some reassurance that even though things may be different for you, that’s a normal process of cancer treatment. And you can work together to strengthen their confidence in your abilities to handle things which will shift their approach to you from protectiveness to encouragement.
And in terms of you’re own needs, what’s important is that you’re helping your social circle understand your new priorities.
For instance, your level of energy has changed since going through cancer treatment or maybe you had cisplatin and sustained hearing damage so places with loud noisy backgrounds aren’t so fun because you can’t hear the conversation.
So sharing that with your support person would sound more like, I would prefer to have you over for a bbq or i would prefer if we could go to dinner a little earlier before the crowds because it's easier for me to hear you, or because I’m a lot more fun before 9 these days.
Knowing this your support person can also convey this information in constructive ways when others are making plans that include you so everyone can have fun and you don’t become a hermit because things aren’t what they once were.
This may sound like more work than you want to do and you may be listening to me and saying to yourself , “ I hate this and I just want to go back to normal.” and I totally get that.
You’ve certainly earned the right to feel that way. But I can promise you that allowing that thought process to keep you from moving forward is not serving you my friend.
I know its difficult to accept these changes because I’ve been there and I’ve fought them like nothing else until I learned that I needed to surrender. In fact, in my newly updated revivify course, release is the first module because it’s so critical to let go of what’s holding you back from creating a new fulfilling plan for your life.
To make this a little easier for you, I’ve created a free download that is part of one of the action sheets in my revivify course. You can download this sheet by going to lauralummer.com /51 and use it to think through and plan out how you will create a stronger network of social champions to support you in whatever you need.
I’ll tell you what I tell the women in my course. It’s time to lay down the warrior shield and let your heart be soft again. Give yourself permission to accept support, to see where you can be supportive of the healing of those around you and be vulnerable enough to communicate your needs.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions and i’d love to offer you as much support as you need so find me on Facebook as laura lummer, on instagram as thebreastcancerrecoverycoach and DM me with your thoughts.
Or come and join us in the revivify course where I’ll walk you through the process of releasing, regrouping, and reviving your life after breast cancer. You can find revivify by going to my website lauralummer.com and scrolling down courses.
Before I go I have two questions for you.
Have you subscribed to this podcast yet? If not just hit the subscribe button wherever you’re listening right now so you never miss an episode. I put out a new episode every sunday and when you’re subscribed you’ll get it automatically.
Second question have you left a review for this show? If not I would be so grateful if you could take a moment to leave a positive comment in the itunes store. That means so much to me and it makes the show easier for other breast cancer survivors to find. So you’ll be doing a double service.
Thanks in advance for taking the time to do that and don’t forget to go to the show notes for this episode, lauralummer.com/51 and get your free action sheet to start strengthing your social support today.
Until next time, be good to yourself because your lifestyle is your medicine.