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Finding Strength Amidst the Battle of Cancer — Tips for Supporting a Loved One Fighting for Their Life | By Anna Blue

Last Updated: February 9, 2024By

The difficult moments we endure reveal to us our strength. Cancer is a heavy word; it carries vast emotions and often hurtful memories. As someone who has watched a loved one get diagnosed with cancer and go through chemo treatments, surgery and recovery, I understand the feeling of not knowing how to help.

On Jan. 1, 2021, my mom was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer. The first few weeks were spent in a fog — from trying to find the best place for her to receive care to deciphering contradictory information coming to us from different sources. She received chemo every three weeks from January to September, with one break in April for surgery. Each cancer journey is unique, but I want to share a few, hopefully helpful tips for supporting a cancer patient.


I remember how badly I wanted to say the perfect thing to ease my mom’s and dad’s anxieties and pain. Those magic words do not exist, and that is okay! Just be present for whatever needs and emotions arise.


Cancer is a long, tough fight. It is crucial to take care of your own mental and physical health throughout this process. You cannot pour from an empty cup. My dad never wanted to leave my mom’s side; he rarely did, but he would take small moments for himself to recharge, so he could be his best for her. It is easy to just focus on the cancer patient, but keep an eye on yourself and your other loved ones who are involved.


All the unknowns can quickly become overwhelming. It was a relief when we finally learned the type of cancer my mom had and knowing the plan of action to beat it. The cancer patient and their support team can find comfort in research. Encourage education and knowledgeable support groups for the cancer patient. Having a cancer survivor mentor the patient and share their knowledge about hair loss, chemo treatments, surgery and the recovery period can provide mental relief. They will have insights and understanding to give from their own experiences.


The treatment plan may adapt as the situation changes; this can cause frustration and be discouraging for the patient and loved ones. Just remember to be flexible and keep in mind that every treatment is a step forward.


Negative thoughts run wild when the patient becomes mentally and physically exhausted. Tools that helped lift my mom’s spirits during these times were prayer and meditation, falling asleep to uplifting music and reading encouraging books. During these challenging moments, it is important for the caregivers to stay calm. Night time is when the mental battle can be especially difficult; remind your loved one you are available to talk or listen at anytime.


It is important to be mindful of the limitations due to the type of treatment are receiving. There will be days when they feel like going out and days where getting out of bed is impossible. Set up a TV with their favorite movie to watch together, read a book to them, draw,
color or just simply be there to hang out. Get creative! Help them get their minds off of their illness; obviously, they are not going to forget they have cancer, but it doesn’t need to be at the center of everything they do.


For some people, the fight doesn’t end once the cancer is gone. Chemo and other treatments put extreme strain on the body. When my mom finished her last treatment, we did not know the struggle that was still before us. The type of chemo she received weakened her digestive system; she couldn’t eat anything without it hurting her stomach. Finding out what foods she could tolerate was a long process. The first
thing you try might not work, but don’t give up; there are many nourishing foods out there with healing qualities that can help. I believe this process was one of the hardest parts of her cancer journey. It took months for her to find something that truly helped her, but she found it. Now she is thriving, living her life to the fullest, because she truly knows the value of her health.

Through my mom’s cancer journey, I have experienced deep personal growth. This experience has initiated and sustained mindfulness for our whole family — from the foods we eat, the products we use and the way we appreciate every moment — because it is a gift. Wherever you are within this journey, take it one day at a time. Know that you are resilient, and you have the strength to handle each difficult moment.


Originally published in Winter + Spring 2023-24 issue of Well.


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