Appointments. Side-effects. Medications. Side-effects from medications. More sickness. Lengthy tests. Hospitalizations. It can be a lot at any age, but for young adults (generally those ages of 18 to 39), it can be especially so at a time when it feels like life is just really getting started. How are you supposed to manage all of that, much less cope with it?
The answer is different for every person. But if there is one thing that can help young adults cope with cancer, it's social support. In fact, that's true for cancer patients of all ages.
What is social support?
Social support essentially refers to the feeling of comfort, care and connection that you get from others. "Others" could be immediate family, extended family, close friends, acquaintances, neighbors, coworkers, and yes, even strangers. These individuals might help you by providing emotional support, physical support, financial assistance, laughter, motivation, distraction or a combination of all of the above. It all depends on what you need or want, and that can completely change from day to day.
Why social support is important
No matter what your exact situation is, being sick can get lonely. Even patients with incredible support systems feel alone from time to time, or need a little extra boost from outside their network. We need different things, at different times, from all kinds of different people.
How to find social support
There is so much opportunity for connection out there. You really just have to think about your personality and what you're looking for, and then pick something that fits. But in case you need a little jump start, here are seven suggestions. Keep in mind that these suggestions can be helpful for cancer patients of all ages.
- Join a support group. Finding the right one can sometimes be a challenge, but try a few! Support groups may be online, in person, in the hospital, in the community, disease specific, age specific, etc. There's something for everyone. If you're ever in the Houston area, MD Anderson's Department of Social Work is starting a support group specifically for young adults (ages 18 to 39). It's open to young adults with cancer (and their caregivers) at any point in their cancer journey (from diagnosis to survivorship) and treated at any hospital. Come check it out!
- Set aside some dedicated time for people. Connect with family, friends, coworkers or whomever you want to spend time with. Start small and maybe just pick one person to meet with monthly or weekly -- whatever you can manage. Try going for a walk, or sending an email. You'll still get that sense of connection, and help your friends and family feel included in this crazy process.
- Get one-on-one support from someone who has been through it. Many hospitals and community organizations can match you with another cancer patient with similar experiences. myCancerConnection -- MD Anderson's one-to-one patient program -- is open to patients everywhere. It's a great way to get advice and guidance from someone who is familiar with the experience.
- Join a gym. Some gyms have programs specifically for people who want to exercise but have limitations. And even if you don't have limitations, exercise is good for your physical and emotional health.
- Volunteer. Volunteering is a fantastic way to briefly disconnect from your reality and plug in to someone else's. Research what opportunities are available in your community. If you live in Houston, you might even consider volunteering at MD Anderson and bringing a smile to other cancer patients and caregivers.
- Re-invest in a hobby, or find a new one. A quick online search can help you find groups dedicated your interest (pets, technology, games, dancing, cars, all kinds of things). Or try joining a recreational sports league. Ultimately, they're more about making new friends than playing competitively.
- Get connected on social media. Either by visiting and connecting to established pages (like MD Anderson's Facebook page), or create your own. If you create your own, you can use it to document your journey, let others know what's going on, process your own thoughts and feelings, or you might make it a "no cancer zone" where only funny or hopeful content is allowed.
When it comes to social support - find it and use it. Or at the very least, see what's out there. You'll be much better prepared should you ever find you could use a little extra connection.