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Emotional support for cancer patients – What really do patients need?

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by Dr Jozelle Miller

President SCORCH Cancer Support Foundation

http://scorchcancerfounda.wix.com/scorch

For many cancer patients and their families the experience of cancer is an intensely stressful one. A diagnosis of cancer evokes a wide range of emotions, such as fear, anxiety, anger, depression, despair and helplessness. It can be a time of great emotional distress for patient and family. The patient is plunged from a state of apparently good health through a series of frightening transitions (Bloom, 1982): investigations and treatment with their potentially unpleasant side-effects, unanswered questions concerning recurrence, pain and death.{{more}}

With the uncertainties and loss of control comes a need for emotional support. Patients need to understand what is happening to them and to be supported and reassured by others as to what will happen to them and whether their reactions are normal or otherwise. Patients who receive strong and consistent emotional support are thought to adjust more successfully over time.

Emotional support has been described as behaviour which assures the individual that he is loved and valued as a person, regardless of achievement. It has also been defined in terms of physical presence, empathy, expressed concern, affection, others acceptance of patient’s cancer, special understanding; love/concern, reassurance, encouragement; and closeness with another person in whom the recipient can confide.

Different sources of support, such as family, friends or doctors, often provide different types of support. For example, a doctor may offer information as a form of support, whereas family provides love and affection. In a study done by Dunkel-Schetter’s 1984, looking at the most helpful and unhelpful behaviours given to cancer patients, ‘help’ most often meant emotional support and was perceived as most supportive when given as a combination of information and direct help. Further studies have shown that information giving is an important predictor of satisfactory emotional support for patients (Blanchard et al, 1990; Wortman and Dunkel-Schetter, 1979; Peck, 1972).

Emotional support is important for most cancer patients during their illness and can be gained from different people and services. By allowing patients to express their concerns, family and friends can acknowledge and help to manage their fears.

You may have just learned that you have cancer. Or you may be in treatment, or have a friend or family member with cancer. Having cancer changes your life and the lives of those around you. We just want you to know that you don’t have to experience this alone.

The SCORCH cancer foundation cares and is here to support you. Come join us on the 3rd Tuesday of every month. We meet at the Outpatient Department of the Milton Cato Memorial Hospital @4:30 p.m.

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