From the moment your loved one was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, you've probably gone through an entire range of emotions. Family members and friends of women with ovarian cancer have said that they feel angry, sad, anxious, scared, and lonely. One or more of these feelings may come and go, or you may have all of them at once, and they may continue as your loved one goes through treatment, and even after treatment has ended.
Family members have also said that they want and need to do something to help, but that they don't always know what to do or how to do it. The following is the NOCC's publication, "When a Loved One has Ovarian Cancer." For a copy of this booklet, please call 1-888-OVARIAN (1-888-682-7426) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Helping Your Loved One
Often family members and friends don't know where to begin to help their loved one. Here are some tips that others in your situation have found helpful:
- Spend time and talk with her. Let her take the lead. If she wants to talk, be a good listener.
- All it takes sometimes is a touch or a hug to let someone know you care. It doesn't have to be a long conversation. Just being there is important.
- Try to feel comfortable when there is a lull in the conversation. Silence can often be comforting.
- Remember that she may not always want to talk or think about cancer.
- Help put ovarian cancer in perspective by obtaining accurate, factual and honest information.
- Be an educated family member or friend. Know what resources are available. Seek out new, reliable information from your healthcare provider, from the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition, the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, your local library, and local support groups.
- Help her find a healthcare provider who understands her and meets her needs.
- Try to involve her in as many shared activities as she would like. Play cards, watch movies, go out to dinner, or go shopping.
- If you don't live with her, continue to visit, call, e-mail, or write.
- Keep your promises. If you say you are going to stop by, follow through. Understand if she tires quickly and you can't stay as long as you expected. Learn to read signs that she needs rest or time alone.
- Encourage her to do things with others.
- Run simple errands. Often these small tasks seem insignificant but can provide great relief to her and her family.
- Write a little note letting her know you are thinking about her or make a quick phone call.
- Allow her privacy.
- Discuss needed changes in family roles and activities. Decide what is important, what needs to be done, what can be delegated, and what can wait.
- Don't minimize the effect of the cancer, but don't be overprotective.
- Most importantly, be yourself!
Communicating with Your Loved One about Ovarian Cancer
Why is it hard to talk about ovarian cancer?
Many people feel that it's very hard to talk honestly with their loved one about ovarian cancer. You may feel like you have to protect her. Or you may feel like she has enough to worry about without worrying about your stress, or your problems, or your emotions. You may worry that if you talk about your fear or anxiety, you may make her scared, or anxious, or you may make her lose hope.
Communicating more effectively with your loved one
Here are some tips others have found helpful when trying to communicate with their loved ones with cancer:
- Express your feelings and try to communicate openly. This is crucial to creating a healing environment and for helping one another gain the strength necessary to deal with ovarian cancer.
- Give your loved one permission to openly express her feelings. Some patients may keep feelings bottled up for fear of worrying or scaring their family and friends.
- Let your loved one know that it is OK to cry in front of you and that it is not a sign of weakness to express emotion.
- Try to set aside time every day to talk to each other without interruptions. Turn off the ringer on your phone, turn off the television, don't answer your doorbell.
- Use "I" statements, such as "I feel angry when..." or "I feel frustrated because..." or "I feel sad because..."
- Clarify statements with each other: "I heard you say... is that right?" If you think your loved one misunderstood something you said, try saying it a different way....Try to avoid serious discussions when you are tired or angry. Messages are more likely to be poorly communicated...
- Don't stop making plans for the future. Discuss life goals and plans for when recovery goes well but also for if the cancer takes a turn for the worse. Talking about this can help both of you be ready for what the future brings...
- Make sure you know your loved one's wishes should the cancer get worse. Let her know you can handle these discussions. Talk about things that both of you may be worrying about but may be afraid to talk about - finances; hospice care; who will make decisions for her if she is not able to make them for herself.
Communicating with Others about Your Experience
Why is it important to communicate with others about what you're going through?
The experience of ovarian cancer affects the entire family, as well as friends and co-workers.
As a family member or friend of a woman with ovarian cancer, you are not alone. Just as you are working to cope with the cancer of your loved one, friends, co-workers and other family members are affected too. Children and parents face uncertainty and fear. Co-workers worry and may also have to deal with crises and interrupted schedules. Everyone needs support - learn to ask for help and encourage others to do the same.
With permission from your loved one, explain to friends and co-workers what is going on so they can understand if you have to change your plans.
There are no disadvantages to having support in place, in case you need it. Keep in touch with your friends, family, and anyone else who supports you.
Most importantly, in your role as a support person for a loved one who has ovarian cancer, you may find that you need help in helping her. Asking for help is a sign of strength and taking control.
Knowing how and when you should ask for help from others
It's never too early to ask for help from a variety of sources. Ask in advance of needing the help, if you can. This gives them time to plan too. Have friends and family assist you with:
- Accompanying your loved one to doctor and treatment (Chemotherapy or Radiation Therapy) appointments.
- Babysitting, or taking kids to activities.
- Creating a list of "how family and friends can help" and see if they can come up with their own ideas.
- Spiritual help - prayers, meditation, rituals, scripture reading, getting to church or communion.
- Emotional help - sharing, crying, laughing.
- Practical help - chores, transportation, getting information.
- Appoint one of your friends or family to organize everyone else. You may not have to identify needs - they may do it for you.
- Have one friend or family member be the contact person for information and news. Then he/she can pass on information to the rest of your support network.
- If communication is difficult, seek the assistance of a licensed counselor, therapist or clergy.
Here are some suggestions on what you could ask for:
- "Please help us with our shopping."
- "We need a hug."
- "I would like you to help by inviting my loved one out and taking her places."
- "We would love it if you'd water our flowers!"
- "Please pray for us and share your faith with us."
- "Talk to us about the future; hope is important to us."
- "I/she would love a call when you have a minute to just talk."
- "We enjoy getting mail or email."
- "Could you help me (or my loved one) with chores? We still have dirty dishes, clothes and a house that needs cleaning."
- "Bring a positive attitude, it's catching."
- "Please help me/her feel good about my/herself."
- "Can you take our children or us somewhere?" Be specific.
- "We might need transportation to her treatment, to her doctor's office, or the store."
- "Could you walk or feed our pet?"
- "I'd like you to just listen to me/her."
- "Make us laugh, tell us jokes and funny stories. Ovarian cancer has not taken away our sense of humor."
- "Talk to me about my concerns about her dying and how the cancer has changed me, without thinking I have a negative attitude."
Lotsa Helping Hands is an organization that provides an on-line tool to assist in organizing support. This free web-based service helps manage and simplify everyday tasks of family, friends, colleagues and neighbors wishing to help loved ones in need. For more information go to: www.ovarian.lotsahelpinghands.com.