Having Support During a Cancer Battle
- Cancer survivor Jane Fonda, 85, talks about the powerful effect friendships – particularly those between women – can have on your health. And there’s science to back that up.
- Harvard Medical School research shows that not having “strong relationships” can have “an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”
- When it comes to cancer recovery, specifically, our experts say it’s important to surround yourself with people who care for you and can support you through your treatment.
- Our experts add that some people may need to look beyond their circle of family and friends to get the extra support they need. They recommend finding a mental health professional with experience aiding people undergoing cancer treatment.
When asked about the biggest benefit of having a strong group of girlfriends on Alex Cooper’s “Call Her Daddy” podcast, the 85-year-old actress gave a simple answer: “Your health.”Read More
Indeed, an article by Harvard Medical School supports the idea that “strong relationships,” in general, have an impact on overall health.View this post on Instagram
“One study, which examined data from more than 309,000 people, found that lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50% — an effect on mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity,” the article reads.
Another study referenced by Harvard suggests that “among women, social isolation and low social support were consistently associated with lower cognitive function.”
Licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Marianna Strongin even wrote for SurvivorNet, “Studies have found consistently that loneliness is a significant risk factor for physical and mental illnesses and the trajectory of recovery.”
Needless to say, the value of connection and support cannot be understated for both men and women. And we’re happy to see that a cancer-free Fonda can rely on her friends through the highs and lows of life.
Jane Fonda’s Cancer Battle
Jane Fonda shared that she had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a type of blood cancer, in an Instagram post on Sept. 2, 2022.
View this post on Instagram
“I’m also lucky because I have health insurance and access to the best doctors and treatments. I realize, and it’s painful, that I am privileged in this,” she wrote in the emotional post. “Almost every family in America has had to deal with cancer at one time or another and far too many don’t have access to the quality health care I am receiving and this is not right.”
What Kind of Lymphoma Do You Have? Why Your Type Matters
There are more than 40 different types of lymphoma, but Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma are the main two sub-categories, with the latter being much more common. All non-Hodgkin lymphomas start in white blood cells called lymphocytes, which are part of your body’s immune system. From there, doctors separate these cancers into types based on the specific kind of lymphocytes they grow from: B cells or T cells. Knowing whether you have a B-cell or a T-cell lymphoma is important, because it will determine what kind of treatment you get.
Fonda went on to explain that she would be “doing chemo for 6 months,” but she was handling the treatments “quite well.”
“Cancer is a teacher and I’m paying attention to the lessons it holds for me,” she explained. “One thing it’s shown me already is the importance of community. Of growing and deepening one’s community so that we are not alone.”
Then, on Dec. 15, 2022, Fonda shared the exciting news that she was in remission and finished with her chemotherapy treatments.
“Last week I was told by my oncologist that my cancer is in remission and I can discontinue chemo,” she wrote in a blog post. “I am feeling so blessed, so fortunate. I thank all of you who prayed and sent good thoughts my way. I am confident that it played a role in the good news,” another testament to the importance of connect and support.
Support From Friends During A Cancer Journey
Feeling support from friends – like Jane Fonda champions – can help you express your feelings and maintain a positive attitude during a cancer battle. As Dr. Strongin wrote, it’s “important that you surround yourself with individuals who care and support you throughout your treatment,” which she said can be an “arduous chapter.”
That being said, it’s very important to know your limits on what you can handle during treatment.
“Going through treatment is a very vulnerable and emotionally exhausting experience,” she wrote. “Noticing what you have strength for and what is feeling like too much… [is] extremely important to pay attention to as you navigate treatment.”
Bianca Muniz is both an ovarian and breast cancer survivor. She told SurvivorNet some of her friendships ended because certain people just couldn’t understand what she was going through.
Two-time cancer survivor Bianca Muniz explains how she found a support system during treatment
“I’ve lost a lot of friends … because people don’t really know how to deal with what I’m going through,” she told SurvivorNet. “I didn’t care to talk about what was happening with me. I just wanted things to be normal — and they didn’t really understand how to do that.”
But many people do see their friendships flourish during their cancer journey. For Monica Layton, it was the friendships and community of her church congregation that really gave her the support she needed during her ovarian cancer battle.
Ovarian cancer survivor Monica Layton shares how her church was her biggest support system
“[I’ve] gone to the same church for a long time, so it’s like another family that really supports me,” she told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “We’re Episcopalian, and when I was having surgery my priest came to the hospital and stayed and prayed with my family the whole time – and it was a long surgery. And then he came back to the hospital every day to pray with me.”
In addition to praying for her, Layton’s church also sent flowers, cards and a prayer blanket and often visited her.
“They were so kind,” Layton said. “I think my faith has been very important, crucial for me. Just the prayer really helps, I think.”
Psychiatrist Dr. Lori Plutchik does say some cancer warriors may need to look beyond their existing relationships to find the support they need.
“Some people don’t need to go outside of their family and friends circle. They feel like they have enough support there,” Dr. Plutchik told SurvivorNet. “But for people who feel like they need a little bit more, it is important to reach out to a mental health professional.”
Seeking Support: The First 3 Things to Do after a Cancer Diagnosis
Dr. Plutchik says it’s best to find a mental health professional with experience aiding people undergoing 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,” she said. “It can also be helpful to reach out to family, friends, and any other caretakers that may be involved in the person’s treatment.”
Acceptance As A Cancer Warrior
When faced with cancer, your life is filled with uncertainties. But that does not mean you can’t grow to accept the situation and focus on your response to uncertainty.
Dr. William Breitbart, the chair of the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, spoke with SurvivorNet about living in uncertainty.
Learning to Accept Yourself — A Huge Part of Living With Cancer
“We all have to live lives of uncertainty,” he said. “And we all have to have the courage to risk living and becoming who we are meant to be or we want to become.
“In the lived experience of every day and every year, we’re really living an uncertain future, not a certain future, because every day of our lives is really filled with uncertainty.”
Dr. Breitbart then goes on to explain that embracing that uncertainty can lead to a newfound sense of control.
“What the task becomes is having the courage to live in the face of uncertainty, realizing that you cannot necessarily control the uncertainty in life, the suffering that occurs, limitations, challenges both good and bad… you may not be able to control those,” he said. “But you have control over how you choose to response to them and the attitudes you take towards them.”
It’s very normal to have negative feelings throughout your cancer journey – and it’s okay to express them. Anger, shame, fear, anxiety – they’re all to be expected. But how you handle the rollercoaster of emotions that can come with a cancer journey is up to you.
RELATED: Stay Positive, It Matters
Evelyn Reyes-Beato is a resilient woman who also had to deal with the complexity of emotions during a cancer journey. The colon cancer survivor comes from a culture where health issues and feelings aren’t normally talked about, but she found that expressing her emotional pain was a big factor in helping her overall physical health.
You Just Have to Let it Out: Survivor Evelyn Reyes-Beato on Healing Emotionally After Cancer
“You have to let it out,” Evelyn previously told SurvivorNet. “Your mental and your emotional help your physical get in line. If you keep all of the emotions in, the way I see it, is that stuff is going to eat you up inside and it’s not going to let you heal.”
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