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Getting Companionship and Support from Family and Friends

Chapter Contents

Understanding the Problem
Socializing with other people often drops off as the illness goes on
Some important kinds of support are lost when this happens
You should reach out to others to arrange as much socializing as the person with cancer needs and wants
Remember your own need for socializing

When To Get Professional Help
If the person with cancer is depressed about not having companionship, read the home care plan on Coping with Depression for guidance about when to get professional help

What You Can Do To Help
List people who can provide companionship
Plan how to make visiting pleasant for visitors
Don't wait for people to visit-seek them out
A place to write the names of people who can provide companionship and support

Possible Obstacles
"People should volunteer to visit without being asked."
"I'm afraid that I'll be turned down if I invite people or ask to visit them."
"Some people feel awkward talking to someone who is sick. They don't know what to say."
"The person I'm caring for doesn't want people to see him when he is sick."
"Some people are well meaning, but they boss us around or say things that are upsetting."
"Some people stay too long and tire us out."

Carrying Out and Adjusting Your Plan
Start with people who are easier to visit or invite, and then try people who are more challenging
If you are having problems carrying out your plan, ask other people to help you and give you ideas
Repeat these problem-solving steps regularly to ensure that the person with cancer has the companionship he or she wants and needs

(Topics with a front of them are actions you can take or symptoms you can look for.)

Understanding the Problem

When people are sick, it is normal for their families and friends to express interest and concern and to offer to help. While many people are interested and concerned early in the illness, often fewer and fewer people take the time and effort to visit or to call as the illness goes on. This happens for several reasons. People who are not sick are often uncomfortable around those who are, and so it is often easy to let other activities and problems become more important than visiting someone with an illness. Another reason is that some people with cancer withdraw from their friends and family, especially as their illness progresses. They do this because they don't want other people to see them when they are ill, they are not feeling well enough to make the effort, they don't want other people telling them what to do, or they feel that their friends should take the initiative to visit them. When friends and family see this withdrawal, they feel less welcome.

Unfortunately, something important is lost when people with cancer see fewer and fewer people. They lose the stimulation of thinking about other people's lives, they lose the ability to see their own problems in a larger perspective, and they lose the suggestions and help which others can give. They also forget that other people love and care about them.

It is important that you, as a caregiver, do what you can to prevent social isolation. You should invite people to visit, organize the visits so they are helpful to the person with cancer, and make the visit rewarding for the visitor so that he or she wants to come again. This home care plan will help you to do that.

Your goal is to:

  • arrange for as much social contact as the person with cancer needs and wants throughout the illness.

  • (Also remember that your own needs for companionship and support are important, too. You will be a better caregiver if you keep up your outside interests and relationships with other people during this illness. You should use the ideas in this home care plan for yourself as well. Planning time away with friends can be helpful. It can take your thoughts away from caregiving, and it can give you a chance to tell others about your feelings and experiences. It can also give others an opportunity to express their support to you and to make suggestions from their experiences.)

When To Get Professional Help

If the person with cancer feels that no one likes him or her, does not want to have companionship, and, at the same time, is feeling sad and depressed, then professional help is needed.

Read the home care plan on Coping with Depression for guidance about when and how to get professional help for depression.

What You Can Do To Help

There are three things you can do to make sure that the person with cancer gets the companionship and support he or she needs:

  • make a list of people who can provide companionship,

  • select people from this list and decide how you will make visiting pleasant for them, and

  • plan and arrange to visit them or for them to visit you.
Don't wait for other people to ask to visit. Part of your job as a caregiver is to seek them out and to either visit them or invite them to visit you.

Make a list of people who can provide companionship

Make a list of companions.
Make a list of the people who could give companionship and support to the person with cancer. Do this with the person you are caring for and with help from family members and friends. Try to make a long list.

As you make your list, consider the following types of people:

  • Friends

  • Neighbors

  • Relatives

  • People who worked or went to school with the person with cancer

  • Members of the same community organizations such as churches, fraternal or community service organizations, political organizations, and so on

  • People with the same interests or hobbies

  • "Helpers"-people who have a lot of experience caring for sick people and are willing to give advice and help
Don't worry about how far away these people live, how busy they are, how long since you've talked to them, or even how well you know them.
If you are not sure whether to include someone, put them on the list. Your goal is to have the longest list you can. As you get experience with this home care plan, you will become more skilled and comfortable arranging for companionship, and, as that happens, you will want to contact more and more of the people on your list.

Telephone calls are often easier to arrange than inviting someone to the home.
If there are people to whom the person with cancer enjoys talking on the phone, be sure to include them on this list. You can encourage these people to call or you can make calls to them.

Helpers are often volunteers in community or church organizations,
or they may be friends or neighbors who have worked as nurses, teachers or counselors, or in social service agencies.

Pets are another kind of companion that have been helpful and supportive for many sick people.
If the person with cancer does not have a pet, he or she may want to consider getting one.

Decide how you will make visiting pleasant for them

Following is an exercise where you can list companions and note how to make visiting enjoyable for them. We recommend that you complete this list now and that you add to it throughout the illness. Then it will be ready to use whenever you need it.

Thinking about the visit from the point of view of the other person will help you to make the visit more pleasant.
This will make you a better visitor and a better host or hostess and will also give you ideas for how to arrange visits, what to do when you are together, and how to increase the chances that you will get together again.

Next to each person on your list, write what he or she would like or enjoy about being with the person with cancer. Ask yourself, "What would make a visit really nice for him or her?"

The following are examples of how home caregivers have made visits enjoyable for their visitors.

"Phil is a workaholic. That's all he thinks about. So when we get together, we ask him about work and he loves it."

"My wife loves to talk about personal things that happen to people. So does her friend Mary. When we get together with Mary, they both talk about the people they know. Mary has a great time and so does my wife."

"Joe's not a great talker, so I arrange for him to be doing something when we get together. Sometimes it's cutting up food for the meal; sometimes it's playing cards with Dad. But it gives him something to do when he's with Dad, and this makes him feel comfortable about not talking all the time."

"Nancy is into fancy cooking. She's a great cook and she really appreciates a meal that takes some effort. So, when Nancy visits, I fix something special to eat. It's a way of saying 'thanks for coming' that Nancy understands."

"Bill has a lot of problems of his own, so, when we visit him, my wife and I spend a lot of time listening to him talk about his problems. Sometimes we can help him, but mostly we help by listening. Bill likes an audience, and my wife and I don't mind listening-it makes us think our problems aren't really so bad."

"Judy is embarrassed if you thank her for coming. She likes to pretend that she was just passing by. So Andy and I play along. When I see her after church, I tell her how much her visits mean to Andy. Then I can tell she's pleased."

A PLACE TO WRITE THE NAMES OF PEOPLE WHO CAN PROVIDE COMPANIONSHIP AND SUPPORT TO THE PERSON WITH CANCER

First, write the names of all the people who could give companionship and support. Make the longest list you can. Then, next to each name, write what he or she would enjoy doing when being with the person with cancer.

Possible Obstacles

Think about what could prevent you from carrying out your plan. Here are some things that other people have said stood in their way in carrying out their plans to increase companionship for the person with cancer.

1. "People should volunteer to visit without being asked."

Response: If you feel this way, think back to people you knew who were sick and how difficult it sometimes was to find the time to visit. The fact that people don't volunteer doesn't mean that they don't care. Probably they would welcome the opportunity to visit-if they were asked.

2. "I'm afraid I'll be turned down if I invite people or if I ask to visit them."

Response: Think of yourself as asking for the person who is sick and not for yourself. This way you are not so personally involved. If you ask people to do something they enjoy doing, it is more likely that they will accept.

3. "Some people feel awkward talking to someone who is sick. They don't know what to say."

Response: Have something to do-for example, a card game or puzzle to work on. Then they can talk about what they are doing, or they can be comfortable not talking at all because they are paying attention to what they are doing.

4. "The person I am caring for says he doesn't want people to see him when he is sick." Response: Encourage talking to people on the phone. You may also suggest inviting people who are used to seeing sick people-for example, people who have been caring for someone who is sick. You can also arrange activities that the visitors enjoy so that the appearance of the person with cancer isn't as important.

5. "Some people are well meaning, but they boss us around or say things that are upsetting."

Response: Well-meaning people are not always helpful, so think carefully about when their visits are helpful and when they are not. Invite them when their helpfulness outweighs any problems they cause. If you and the person with cancer know what to expect and are prepared, you can steer the conversation in helpful directions during the visit.

6. "Some people stay too long and tire us out."

Response: Ask them beforehand to limit the time they stay. This takes the pressure off of everyone about when to end the visit.

Think of other obstacles that could interfere with carrying out your plan

What additional road blocks could get in the way of doing the things recommended in this home care plan? For example, will the person with cancer cooperate? Will other people help? How will you explain your needs to other people? Do you have the time and energy to carry out the plan?

You need to develop plans for getting around these road blocks. Use the four COPE ideas (creativity, optimism, planning, and expert information) in developing your plans. See the chapter on Solving Home Care Problems at the beginning of the book for a discussion of how to use the four COPE ideas in overcoming your obstacles.

Carrying Out and Adjusting Your Plan

Carrying out your plan

Make up a list of people who can give companionship. Keep adding ideas for how to make visiting pleasant and rewarding for them. Try new people. Don't just stick with the easy ones.

Invite people to come to visit the person with cancer or go to visit them. If you are uncomfortable inviting other people, ask others to do the inviting for you. Use the telephone to visit and encourage others to call. Set deadlines to do this, or you may put it aside.

Checking on results

You will know if your plans for companionship are successful by the number of times-either in person or on the phone-that the person with cancer is meeting other people.

If the plan does not work

Don't be discouraged if you are not completely successful in the beginning. You will become better with practice. Start with people who are easier to visit or invite and gradually try people who are more challenging.

If you are having problems, ask other people to help you and to give you ideas. When you are under pressure, it may be more difficult to reach out to others. If so, ask others to help you.

You should repeat these problem-solving steps regularly throughout the illness to ensure that the person you are caring for has the companionship he or she wants and needs.




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