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Fighting Fear Itself and Finding the Courage to Seek Support During Cancer

Publication: Austin Medical Times, Houston Medical Times

Bewilderment. Confusion. And perhaps most of all, fear. All of these feelings can accompany a diagnosis of cancer, one of life’s most uninvited and unwelcome challenges. But there’s also a certain kind of lonely fear. A sense that this is your challenge. That only you can fight your fight. 

Overcoming that isolated fear and asking for help when you need it itself is an act of courage. For some, it means showing vulnerability during a time when they want to be strong for themselves and those around them. The truth is cancer patients almost always benefit from seeking and accepting support. Following are considerations for reaching out for assistance. 

Open the lines of communication from the beginning. 
The first step in overcoming fear is communication. Communicating with your care team and loved ones allows for honest dialogue around your fears to help you overcome them. Don’t wait to talk about how you’re feeling. Communicate early and often. It can help you better understand your diagnosis, treatment and side effects, and outcomes. Communication can positively impact your experience as a patient. 

Learn to accept support from those close to you. 
Having cancer affects you and those around you. Common concerns among patients are the fear of burdening others and asking for help. We hear patients say their family members and friends are busy, and they don’t want to interfere with their lives. The response from loved ones is almost always that they want to provide this much-needed support – whether it’s helping clean or cook meals, providing transportation to and from appointments, or listening and being a source of emotional support. Everyone has different ways of facing their fears, but many patients and their loved ones cope best with all that cancer involves when they face it together.

Find support groups and seek others with shared experiences. 
It’s true that every patient’s cancer journey is unique. But cancer patients also share a common and profound life experience. That’s why support groups that allow you to share with those who also have been through it are helpful. Bringing patients together to address cancer-related concerns can be cathartic, whether discussing fear of recurrence or finding a new normal during and after cancer treatment or other issues. The groups are often led by current or former patients and may be focused on specific cancer types. 

Texas Oncology provides resources on support services for patients and caregivers, as does the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute. You can also talk to your cancer care team about getting connected to the right resources for you and your family. Keep in mind this kind of exchange is two-way. Seeking support from those who have experienced similar things may help you cope with your fears. In turn, you may positively impact other patients by sharing your story. 

There is nothing to fear when it comes to seeking and accepting the support of others. Whether it’s through your cancer care team, loved ones, or your local community – leaning on others can greatly enrich your cancer journey. At Texas Oncology, we work tirelessly to ensure our patients never face cancer on their own. Ensuring each patient is supported is a part of our commitment to caring for the whole patient. 

Mathew Meeneghan, M.D., is a medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–South Austin, 4101 James Casey Street, Suite 100, in Austin, Texas.

Jamie E. Terry, M.D., FACS, is a breast surgeon at Texas Breast Specialists–Houston Medical Center in Houston, Texas.

This article originally appeared in the August issues of:

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