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Helping Cancer Patients Cope With Grief


I have a friend who has cancer. She has already had radiation and is about to start chemotherapy. Her father died suddenly yesterday and I am concerned with how to help her. I am concerned that she may delay her chemo treatments which could very well hinder her physical healing. I am also concerned that her emotional pain could affect her outlook on her own outcomes. Do you know of any resources or have any advice on how I can help this person with this unique situation?

First and foremost, allow your friend to experience her grief. She needs to mourn the death of her father. If she doesn't, she will suffer in the long run due to unresolved grief issues. Don''t minimize her pain and don't pressure her to take care of herself by ignoring her grief. Allow her to display her feelings and support her. And help her find a way to continue with her treatments while grieving.

Dealing with a cancer diagnosis is hard enough without adding the death of a loved one. She may feel confused and angry. Encourage her to get her feelings out. If she needs to talk with someone, encourage her to see a counselor or to talk with the nurse or a chaplain while receiving her treatments. It will be important for her to let the medical team know of the death of her father so that they can treat her holistically--that is caring for her emotional state as well as her physical condition.

And mostly, just be there for her. Don't minimize what she is feeling. Don't lecture her about taking care of herself because "that is what your Dad would want." She needs to feel her own pain and to know that her friends will support her no matter what. Offer to help her by listening and by allowing her to feel whatever she is feeling. Help her to make her own decisions so that she feels like she has some control. Cancer patients and mourners have something in common--they are seeking control in a situation that they feel they have no control in. As hard as it may be, just be there unconditionally. Don't push, don't lecture, just allow her to talk so she can make her own decisions.

You are doing one of the most important things already, you are being a concerned friend. Find out what type of resources are available in your community. Perhaps a support group, for cancer or grief, would help her. Find the information for her, let her know what is available and then allow her to decide what to do with it. Your friend is fortunate to have someone who care for her during the difficult time that is made more difficult by the death of a loved one. -- C. Jan Borgman, CSW, LISW

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