The Importance of Social Support When Diagnosed with Cancer



Dr. Suzanne Engelman

California Licensed Psychologist PSY7977
Board Certified in Biofeedback
Certified Thanatologist
Certified Animal Assisted Therapist

LOCATION:
30131 Town Center Drive
Suite # 268
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

Office Phone:  (949) 460-4908 
FAX:  (949) 248-0421
Confidential email: srephd@hushmail.com

Suzanne R. Engelman, PHD, BCB, FT

Cancer

  • Over 4 million people are living with cancer today
  • Cancer is a stressful event that influences interpersonal relationships!!!!

How does a Cancer Diagnosis Affect Your Relationships?

  • Your friends may withdraw or react inappropriately
  • May affect relationships indirectly by restricting your social activities—which will affect your  access to interpersonal resources---just when they are most needed.

 A Cancer Diagnosis may…

  • Challenge your basic assumptions about yourself and the world
  • Lead to a sense of personal inadequacy, diminished feelings of control, increased feelings of vulnerability, sense of confusion

Types of Social Support

  • Emotional
  • Informational
  • Instrumental

Unhelpful Emotional Support

  • People without cancer may see their role as trying to cheer up the person with cancer; However, the majority of cancer patients may feel disturbed by “unrelenting optimism”!
  • Lack of emotional support from family and friends is  especially harmful:
    • “It will all work out”, or empathy (“ I know how you feel”) can only go so far
    • may be viewed as minimization of the problem; however,
  • People without cancer may think it is harmful for people with cancer to discuss their illness--that major concerns for people with cancer are cosmetic. However, people with cancer may feel major concerns center on recurrence and death
Myths that people without cancer may hold
  • 87% of people with cancer said they coped with their illness by keeping their feelings to themselves because of concern about how others might react to their expression of feelings.

Informational Support

  • Provides information used to guide or advise
  • May enhance perceptions of control by providing patients with ways of manage their illness and cope with symptoms
  • Learning how to manage illness may enhance your optimism about the future and reduce feelings of future vulnerability
  • Ameliorate sense of confusion and help to understand cause, course, treatment  of illness
  • May help you to be a positive role model to another person with cancer
  • By promoting a your  individual resources, spouses, family members are also  relieved of cancer related distress’
  • Is a means of empowerment for you
Instrumental Support
  • Provision of material goods
  • Transportation
  • Money
  • Assistance with household chores
  • Tangible support including practical assistance and medical care
  • Can offset loss of control people feel during cancer treatment  by providing tangible resources they can use to exert control over their experience

Support Groups

  • Takes place in atmosphere of caring and acceptance
  • Provides a peer setting-meeting with others who have cancer provides unique needs
  • Can be structured or unstructured conversations
  • Educational groups primarily foster informational support 
Positive effects of group support
  • 6 months after intervention had ended, patients  had reduced psychological distress, altered immune function (increased natural killer cell activity); decreased T cells, increased lympocytes ( 1993; Fawzy) compared with patients  in control group
  • The intervention decreased recurrence and increased survival 6 yrs later ( and Yalom, Spiegel, bloom 1989)

Group support and health outcomes

  • Structured group interventions for people with cancer improves psychological well being, reduces anxiety and depression and improves quality of life, coping and mental adjustment
Closing Thoughts
  • Helping people with cancer face their fears directly creates an intimacy that builds…”social glue!” (Spiegel)
  • Allowing people with cancer to express negative emotions allows them to feel more joy!
  • Its not How long you live, but how WELL you live!

Suzanne R. Engelman, PH.D., BCB, FT (suzyengelm@aol.com) is a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Laguna Niguel.