Cancer Survivors, & The Importance of Support Networks
- Every year, pop psychologists speculate that there is more pressure to be in a relationship during the holidays. We also know many cancer survivors say the holidays are a particularly hard time of year.
- Getting into new relationships or make a relationship more serious during the winter months has beed dubbed as something that happens during “cuffing season.” A recent survey (and we stress this is cultural data, NOT scientific research), found that more than half of people (a whopping 58%) would rather be in a relationship during the colder months.
- For cancer survivors looking for relationship or starting to date, “cuffing season” (if it really exists) may just be another opportunity to look for connection and support
- Psychiatrist Dr. Lori Plutchik tells SurvivorNet, referring to people battling cancer, “Some people don’t need to go outside of their family and friends circle. They feel like they have enough support there. But for people who feel like they need a little bit more, it is important to reach out to a mental health professional.
We are also mindful that for some survivors in the dating world, this entire cultural concept can be triggering, in part because the need for connection is always there.Read More
Does the change in seasons really come with a heightened craving for romance? While we take ALL of this survey with a grain of salt, seeking connection is real; perhaps more for regular people during the winter, and for cancer survivors all the time.
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The survey data explained further, “And while women may be traditionally thought of as the biggest romantics, our survey results tell a different story: almost two-thirds (65%) of men said they would rather be coupled up than single during winter, compared to just 56% of women and 59% of non-binary people.”
Every year, pop psychologists speculate that there is more pressure to be in a relationship during the holidays. We also know many cancer survivors say the holidays are a particularly hard time of year.
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“However, it can be argued that as a species we are designed on a very basic instinctual level to be with others as loneliness can kill, and we feel those lows in emotion particularly in the seasonal holidays,” says a psychologist quoted by the survey funders./
Psychologists have long argued that winter months create a sense of isolation and lack of energy that we don’t experience typically in summer. If you take that theory further, again with a grain of salt, the argument says that there is an evolutionary psychological need for people to crave the literal heat generated by being in a relationship.
Does having a dependable body next to yours makes you feel comfortable, safe, and warm?
The survey also found that approximately 60% of people want to be in a relationship around Christmas time.
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However, Dating and Relationships Expert Callisto Adams warned to Lovehoney that the chances of the “cuffing” flings not working out run high.
“Considering that most people get in relationships just for the sake of not being alone during this period of time, chances are that they’ll be more exposed to heartbreak,” Adams explained. “It’s a behavior motivated by illusion, hence there are a lot of chances for that to not end as well as we imagine.”
Regardless of whether a relationships last or not, it’s always great to have the support of a loved one throughout any time of your life, especially amid hardship, like cancer. Support can even come from family, friends, or community.
Building Support, Staying Connected
If you were recently diagnosed with cancer, you likely know about the wide range of emotions that news can bring. This is one of the most difficult phases of the cancer journey to overcome.
However, it’s during these early stages that a team of supporters can be most useful. Your supporters can be made up of close family members and friends. Your support group can also be filled with people from outside your inner circle. And maybe, if the winter months are looming, support can also come from a new relationship.
However, New York-based psychiatrist Dr. Lori Plutchik previously told SurvivorNet, “Some people don’t need to go outside of their family and friends circle. They feel like they have enough support there. But for people who feel like they need a little bit more, it is important to reach out to a mental health professional.
One of the benefits of having supporters includes helping alleviate stress and anxiety following your diagnosis. Supporters can also help advocate for you during treatment.
Sometimes it is not always easy to share news you have cancer even among loved ones. In instances like these, you can seek out a trained professional to center your support group around. Mental health professionals can help fill this space because many are trained to help you navigate your cancer treatment.
“Make sure that the mental health professional that you work it is reaching out with your consent to the rest of your team, to the oncologist, to the surgeon, it can also be helpful to reach out to family, friends, and any other caretakers that may be involved in the person’s treatment,” Dr. Plutchik said.
WATCH: Seeking Support After a Diagnosis
Dr. Plutchki recommends cancer patients consider the following three steps to get the help you need after a diagnosis:
- Step #1: Seek additional support if you need it (this could mean speaking to a mental health professional or seeking out a support group)
- Step #2: Look for a mental health professional who has experience helping people in your situation.
- Step #3: Keep your care team connected this may include your friends and loved ones, your therapist, and the doctors who are treating your cancer.
Supporting a Loved One Through Cancer
It is important for cancer warriors in the midst of their fight to have a strong support system. Having a partner, friend, or family member by your side to help care for and support you through a health struggle can be advantageous.
And when a loved one takes on a caregiving role, it’s necessary to understand the person’s diagnosis and assist them when following cancer-care instructions.
Dr. Jayanthi Lea, a gynecologic oncologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center, previously told SurvivorNet, “I encourage caregivers to come into visits with my patients because in that way, the caregiver is also listening to the recommendations what should be done in between these visits, any changes in treatment plans, any toxicities [side effects] that we need to look out for, changes in dietary habits, exercise, etc.”
If you are a caregiver of a cancer warrior, it is important to maintain your own mental and physical health as well.
“Caregiving is the most important job in the universe because you are there through the highs and lows,” Julie Bulger manager of patient and family-centered care at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center told SurvivorNet.
“You are there to support your loved one, to manage all of the daily tasks as everything is changing in your life.”
Caregivers must also watch out for “caregiver burnout,” where stress, anger, fatigue, and illness emerge from putting another person’s needs ahead of their own.
If you are a caregiver and find yourself struggling to care for a cancer warrior, you should seek out a therapist, or a support group of their own either online or in person.
Tips for Dealing With Cancer in Your Relationship
Cancer can place a huge strain on any relationship. The state of your relationship with your significant other before a cancer diagnosis can influence how you both endure the cancer journey.
Psychologist Susan McDaniel said in an earlier interview that cancer can either strengthen healthy relationships or widen the divide for couples already facing conflict.
So when you’re faced with a diagnosis or treatment, it can help to lean on the bond you’ve built with your partner.
For healthy couples confronted with cancer, “They recognize how they feel about each other, the petty stuff drifts away. There’s a certain kind of intimacy in having to face something really serious,” Dr. McDaniel said.
“For couples where there’s already significant difficulties that haven’t been resolved, and if the illness hits at some of that, then it’s really hard,” Dr. McDaniel added.
Finding Gratitude After Cancer
Many cancer patients find a sense of gratitude on their journeys. To be grateful means being thankful for what you have and showing appreciation for it. It’s a mindset that helps people going through tough times and our SurvivorNet experts encourage cancer warriors and their loved ones to practice gratitude.
Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal cancer surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, told SurvivorNet in an earlier interview that his patients who live with gratitude tend to handle treatment better because this attitude is one way to stay mentally healthy.
Cancer battles are stressful but finding things that you are grateful for can help manage the stress. Stress and anxiety can lead to physical issues, and practicing gratitude can help get both under control.
“The patients who do well with cancer, they live life with that kind of gratitude, but in terms of everything,” he explained. “They’re grateful, not for cancer, but they’re grateful for an opportunity to know that life is finite.”
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
- Where can I seek additional support if I am struggling mentally?
- Are there any support groups in the area for people like me?
- Can you recommend a mental health professional for my situation?
- Does my situation warrant medication for my mental health and how might that affect my cancer treatment plan?
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff