The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

October 1, 2012

Support system can be critical after diagnosis, during treatment

Randy Griffith

JOHNSTOWN — Family and friends can play a vital support role when the ones they care about face breast cancer.

The support system becomes a part of the patient’s therapy and is important to success, said Susan Majoris, women’s health nurse navigator at Indiana Regional Medical Center.

“We talk about that during the pre-op counseling: How they are doing psychologically,” Majoris said. “We want to know if they have a good support system. They need that support even though they want to be strong.

“Research shows women who have support systems or are involved in support groups do a lot better.”

Experts say the support must go beyond emotional issues.

“Most of the time, when women are going through breast cancer, emotional support is there,” said clinical psychologist Theresa Kovacs of Conemaugh Physicians Group.

“Family and friends can talk to the person and find out what they need,” Kovacs said. “Sometimes it’s ‘someone to take me to the doctor’s; someone to watch the kids, or do stuff around the house because I’m too tired from therapy.’ ”

Don’t wait for your loved-ones to ask for help, Majoris said.

“A lot of people are uncomfortable reaching out,” she said. “Just think what you might want personally sometimes. It’s dropping off a meal; cleaning the house; walking the dog.”

Those who want more involvement can come with the patient to a cancer support group or physician’s appointment, Majoris said.

“Don’t be afraid to bring support people with you,” Majoris said. “It’s better to have two sets of ears rather than one.”

Cancer survivor Dorothy Chanda leaned on her large family and was uplifted through her faith in God.

 “We have a little chapel at my church,” Chanda said. “I go and sit in the chapel for an hour and pray. That to me was more supportive than anything.”

Cancer-free for nearly 10 years, Chanda tries to help newly diagnosed patients she meets through her job as a nurse at Memorial Medical Center’s Lee Campus.

“From my walk of life, you don’t want to overwhelm them,” Chanda said. “When they are newly diagnosed and sad, I try to tell them there are good years ahead. They are coming up with new medications all the time.”

Family and patients alike should understand that stress is the biggest psychological result from cancer diagnosis and treatment, Kovacs said.

“There is a relationship between mind and body,” Kovacs said. “Those two parts are not separate. Psychological health impacts physical health. It’s important to get that message out there.”

Patients should look into stress management techniques to help their bodies accept treatment, Kovacs said, adding that professional help can help in the psychological area as well. Family and friends can reduce stress levels in other areas of a cancer patient’s life to improve the prognosis, she added

“Lift some of the duties and roles that they have off of them so they can have the treatment and concentrate on getting better,” Kovacs said.

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