The cancer survivors I work with have so many stories to tell. One theme that seems to be nearly universal is the experience of dealing with hurtful, negative, or upsetting reactions from friends and acquaintances, co-workers, and sometimes even strangers after disclosure of the diagnosis.
Most folks mean well, but all too often, they simply don't know how to respond, and in their panic and awkward discomfort, react in ways that are less than supportive: telling stories about people they've known with cancer who've suffered terribly and died, talking about how horrible treatment must be and sharing some awful treatment-related story they've heard, bursting into tears, or acting like every interaction may be the last... Survivors in the groups I run often commiserate about the insensitivity of even close friends, about how so many people stop calling, avoid them in public, or disappear altogether.
This social "side effect" of the disease can have a powerful impact on a patient's mood and on her attitude towards treatment. It's hard to maintain hope or even the motivation to go through a grueling treatment process when one's normal support system has been shattered by the diagnosis. Nurses, because of the intimacy in their relationships with patients, are in a powerful position to help patients find ways to express to their friends and families what they want and need from them in terms of emotional support throughout the treatment process.
Normalizing the experience of the "negative" reaction and giving your patient strategies for teaching friends and families more hopeful and supportive ways of interacting can be so healing. Recently, I came across a new "tool" for helping our patients communicate a need for more positivity when that's what they want to have around them.
A friend sent me a link to a video that a friend of hers made. Actually, it's not just a video, but a whole campaign
, started by Nicole Haran in response to her own experiences with cancer. Like so many folks out there, Nicole notes that before she was diagnosed with cancer herself, she never knew what to say or how to act around someone with cancer. After being diagnosed with stage III breast cancer and faced with some of the fearful, sad, and negative reactions of those to whom she disclosed her own diagnosis, she decided to find a way to make a difference in how a cancer diagnosis is perceived and how folks react and respond to the cancer survivors in their lives.
The main point of her campaign, that positive energy is an important healing factor, certainly a significant factor as far as quality of life is concerned, comes through with such clarity in her video. She has gathered a diverse group of survivors who, through quick clips and cuts, share one unified message: Support us with positive thoughts and hope.
You can find (and share) the "Do Great" campaign and flagship video online.
Is this something that you would consider sharing with your patients so they can share it with others in their lives?