The emotional journey through any kind of cancer is a life-changing experience. Knowing that you or someone you love has cancer is in itself debilitating news. Its grave and dreadful nature can elicit a whole range of emotional responses, from shock and despair to denial. It takes enormous courage and will power to wade through the difficult waters, from cancer diagnosis to treatment and recovery.


It is no mean feat to steel yourself and face the challenging journey that lies ahead. We know the havoc cancer wrecks in the mind of the patient, and this is why it is of utmost importance to be there for someone who is battling cancer. As a part of our wellness protocol, ZenOnco.io truly believes in the importance of community support to help a cancer patient fight through the battle and emerge victorious.  


Psychological distress and Community support


Cancer takes a toll on your body as well as your mind. While the physical aspect of cancer treatment is widely known, the mental aspect is often overlooked by family and relatives. The stressful nature of cancer diagnosis and treatment creates psychological distress in most patients. It also has psychosocial implications of emotional, physical, spiritual, and interpersonal dimensions.


What is psychological distress associated with cancer?


Cancer and cancer treatment causes visible consequences for the body. The different types of treatment, like surgery, therapies like chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy, have obvious side effects. They may result in partial or complete hair loss in some parts of the body, stomas, and amputations. These visible effects affect the self-esteem and body image of the patient. 


Other physiological conditions may persist, such as a decline in performance status and functional activity. This may be difficulties in carrying out one’s daily activities, fatigue, altered sexuality, memory impairment, poor concentration, etc. There is also anxiety about one’s mortality, loss of certainty, and emotional instability that cancer patients face. 


Research has proven the link between cancer treatment and psychological distress, leading to low self-esteem and body image issues. Psychological distress has also been directly linked to mortality rates among cancer patients. A study in 2019 showed that women with breast cancer had a higher survival rate when support groups provided them with emotional and social support. 


Spiritual crises, changing perspectives, and existential issues are all part of the emotional responses one faces through the trajectory of the illness. This also affects the social and interpersonal dimensions of a person. 


Patients may have a heightened sense of threat towards their interpersonal relationships. Stigmatization, marginalization, abandonment, and loneliness are also reported among cancer patients. 


How to deal with psychological distress associated with cancer?


Psychological distress associated with cancer is an inevitable part of this dreadful disease. However, each person experiences it in different rates and forms. While some experience it in heightened forms which may have physical repercussions, some may experience milder versions.


Studies show that participation in cancer support groups improved the psychological well being and the coping experience of individual members as well as the caregivers. It also proved that it improved the participant’s willingness to involve in further activities, gain information, and reach out for support. 


Having a support group to provide the emotional and psychological help required by the patient is truly a blessing in disguise. They make the meaning of a community and family become more apparent as they stay strong and support patients, from charting the course of this journey to seeing one come out triumphantly through the battles. Through every step of the journey, from finding the best treatment plans, staying fit and calm, to realigning your life to face this challenge head-on, cancer patients can reach out to ZenOnco.io’s community support for the emotional and psychological assistance they require.


Reaching out – Benefits of getting community support.


  • Provides focused community support: Different types of cancers elicit different responses from people. The stage and recurrence also determine the sort of help a person requires. The age of the patient is taken into account. Such specifications require specific groups. Most support groups are designed around these specifications. 
  • Social, emotional, and educational support: Cancer support groups provide emotional support and educational support by providing reliable medical information. Trained professionals run them in oncology social work. 
  • Improved quality of life: Support groups improve the psychological conditions of the patient, which in turn affects the outcome of the treatment also. Studies have also shown how being in a supportive community increases a sense of being in control of the patient. 
  • Post-treatment support: Once the cancer treatment is over; the patient takes time to return to the normality of life. After the stressful time of dealing with cancer, settling into a possibly new sense of normalcy might be difficult. Dealing with health insurance, finances, and work might take some time to sort out. Support groups help you do just that. 


Support for the family: Support groups are not limited to the patient alone. Family members need psychological help to endure the travails their loved one is going through. This is met by support groups that are designed to include family members. Such groups give the strength and courage the patient needs from the family. 


Different Types of Community Support and their benefits


There are different levels of connecting a cancer patient and their family members with other survivors. While support groups have peers who have similar diseases and fall roughly in the same category, there are more ways to reach out. Cancer patients can connect and gain community support from


  • Patients
  • Survivors
  • Caregivers
  • Doctors
  • Healers


Here we explore the different ways connecting with each group affects the patient and how it benefits them


Community Support from Patients – Support Groups


One of the biggest benefits of recognizing peers is the realization that you are not alone. Knowing that there are others like you who are facing similar challenges and winning at what they are doing is a major push in the right direction. Those who are living with the same conditions can share practical help and advice to others who need it. This brings together people from all walks of life under a common sense of community. Such a community is called a “support group.”


Support groups are all about connecting. They provide the opportunity to meet and interact with people who can relate to your experience. While friends and family members may feel the apprehension as to what is the right or wrong thing to say to a cancer patient, people in support groups can provide much better psychological support. There is usually a trained moderator, who is there to help in processing and validating your emotions and concerns.


Support groups lessen the glaring isolation most patients feel. Moreover, they provide a venue for sharing resources and coping skills. These transactions prove to be highly rewarding for patients. They also provide the venue for discussing important topics such as how to communicate with doctors, finding reliable sources of medical information, treatment challenges, and coping techniques.


Being in a support group means that you are sharing a space with people who have similar experiences and that you are willing to open up intimate details about themselves. This might be uncomfortable for some as opening up to strangers often is. The strong emotional responses that one can expect from such groups may also put off some. However, studies have proven it to be a rewarding experience as well as improve the psychological well being of the patient. 


The Support Group is mostly led by moderators, who are trained professional oncology social workers who cater to the needs of patients and survivors attending support groups. They help the patients make informed decisions, cope with emotional stress, and make sure the group moves in the desired direction.


Community Support from Survivors


It is often the survivors who are the most inspiring images of hope and perseverance to people battling cancer. Knowing that others have battled the same battles and come out, victorious can keep cancer patients moving towards their goals. 


Connecting with cancer survivors can be a highly rewarding experience for cancer patients. It opens up the possibility of sharing information, asking questions, and gaining support and inspiration. 


One can reach out to survivors of similar conditions and age groups, creating a network of understanding and support. Connecting with survivors also clears the air off myths and misconceptions regarding post-treatment life. 


There are extensive survivor based community support groups that can guide patients into a calmer state of mind. There are numerous support groups led by cancer survivors who share the experience of “been there, done that.” 


Benefits of Connecting with Cancer Survivors:


  • A Symbol of Hope: Cancer survivors boost the morale of the patient as well as the family members of the patient. While a diagnosis may push them down into despair, knowing some have come out victorious makes their fight a whole lot meaningful. Cancer survivors actively take part in support groups and counseling to encourage patients into a positive mindset and ease the psychological distress one feels at the onset of disease and diagnosis. 
  • Sharing Experiences: Who is more apt to share the experiences of surviving cancer than someone who has? Sharing information as well as personal experiences with the patient and caregivers take a whole load of apprehensions they might have regarding the treatment. 
  • Busting Myths: There are a lot of stigmas attached to cancer, which is due to the many misconceptions and myths around cancer and cancer treatment. This can create a whole lot of problems for the patient. However, a cancer survivor can help bust these myths by sharing their personal experience. 
  • Post Treatment Life – “Survivorship”: Cancer is a life-changing experience. It changes our life and those around us. Living up to a completely different lifestyle can be daunting and time taking. Connecting with a survivor can be of practical help as they can guide you through different ways to mould your new life post-treatment. This includes emotional as well as economic guiding, as cancer treatment can come with economic baggage. Let not it take a toll on your mental health, as survivors’ guidance can help you navigate those waters
  • Improved quality of life: Studies have shown that the overall wellness of a cancer patient is improved when they reach out and get community help. A sense of belonging and camaraderie can develop amongst patients and survivors, which can emotionally support them with the strength that they need. There is a significant improvement in the quality of life after reaching out. 


Community Support from Caregivers to Patients


The caregivers play a vital role in the life of the cancer patient. They are physically present, emotionally available, and support economically too. This overall involvement of a person in the cancer journey of another loved one deeply affects both of the entities.


Being a caregiver changes the role one plays towards the cancer patient drastically. From a spouse, parent, child, or friend to someone who intensely invests their emotional and physical well being for the sake of a loved one, the role of a caregiver is a challenging one. 


It is a fact that it is often overlooked that support is required to not just the cancer patient alone. Family members require as much care and emotional strength to cope with the drastic changes happening to their life as well as the prospect of fighting for a loved one against a grave ailment. This can take a toll on the psychological and physical well being of the caregiver too. However, by the end of the journey, the caregiver can impart the support and strength of other caregivers, and patients required to help them achieve their goals too. 


It is not news that a caregiver can reach out for help to deal with psychological distress faced by them. Studies have shown that interactions with caregivers benefit both the patient and caregiver in positive ways. There are support groups, which offer solace and support to deal with the crisis they are facing. Survivors, doctors, and caregivers of survivors can help the patient as well as the caregiver in coping with the ailment. 


Benefits of Community Support from Caregivers


  • Being a Caregiver: Being a caregiver is a challenge in itself. Knowing the difficulties and sacrifices, one has to make to meet the needs of the patient is an experience in itself. Being one of the most emotionally taxing roles in a life of cancer, caregivers have to live the fear of losing a loved one. However, connecting with former and current caregivers can be a fulfilling experience. 
  • A Learning Experience: Patients can understand the emotional toll of being a caregiver when it is said out loud by a stranger, making them more understanding and less resentful to the caregiver. The caregiver also benefits in knowing that others are going through similar situations. This helps in creating more understanding between the unique positions of patients and caregivers.  
  • Coping Mechanisms: Caregivers and patients can get new insights into the different coping mechanisms others have found useful. Going through cancer can impact the life of both the patient and the caregiver; hence, other caregivers can provide valuable information on how to juggle the various roles one might have to do while being a caregiver. 
  • A life of one’s own: Caregivers are sometimes entirely involved in the life and treatment of the patient that they forget to build their own life while it happens. Former caregivers and patients can help guide the caregivers to urge them to take care of themselves and their life while being a caregiver. 
  • Battling Depression: Studies have shown that a significant number of caregivers suffer from depression resulting directly from being a caregiver to a cancer patient. It is easy for resentment to take over when the odds are bleak. Finding community support from caregivers, for caregivers can help them figure out their mental agonies, find treatment for depression, and make them feel better about being a caregiver.


Community Support from Doctors


Who is more well equipped to guide a cancer patient through their journey than a medical professional like a doctor? Doctors involve themselves in thousands of cancer cases throughout their careers. They are practically wells of wisdom, from where patients and caregivers can draw valuable information and guidance. 


Connecting with doctors has a highly positive impact. Studies have shown that when medical personnel connect with the patients as part of the treatment, better results of management of symptoms and self-care are seen. Apart from reaching out to the community, doctors can provide highly meaningful wisdom and information on the treatment and post-treatment life. 


Most doctors provide guidance and counseling to patients as part of their treatment. These are beneficial for the patient as well as the caregiver as they can be prepared for what to expect and how to cope with them. 


Benefits of Community Support from Doctors


  • Medical Guidance: Doctors are the best source of medical information regarding the treatment procedure and its effects. As cancer treatment has side effects, a doctor can adequately prepare you to brace for the side effects that follow. It is easy to be confused with the swarm of myths floating around cancer and its treatment. Reaching out to doctors can help bust these myths. Doctors also provide valuable guidance on overall medical wellness. 
  • Getting Information: It is easy to be tempted to google symptoms, treatment methods, and side effects and come to ill-informed conclusions. Most doctors find this habit annoying as it loads the patient’s mind with preconceptions, which can hinder the treatment and progress. Rely solely on your medical team of doctors to impart you authentic information on your condition and treatment. 
  • Getting in touch with the Medical team: Your doctor can help you find more resources of help in your medical team. Finding support groups, dieticians, fitness specialists, and counselors can be made easier with the guidance of a doctor. A doctor can also chart out the course of your journey back to health post-treatment. 


Community Support from Healers


Cancer is a very trying time, mentally and physically. Spirituality and religion are important for the mental well being of those who have cancer. This lets them cope better with the disease. It also imparts the patient and family with a deeper meaning of life and finds new dimensions of personal growth during treatment. It is also a helpful factor for a post-treatment life as a survivor. 


Spiritual connectedness has proven to be beneficial for cancer patients. A study among cancer patients has shown that spiritual well being and quality of life were indeed associated, leading to an overall improvement in the mental and physical state of the patient. There are increasingly effective ways in which religious and spiritual groups provide support to cancer patients. 


Some healers practice alternative and complementary therapies to treat the spiritual and mental well being of cancer patients. Such therapies use body-mind healing techniques, which have been proven effective in a study, channeling of spiritual energy or healing energy, etc. There are also alternative indigenous traditions of healing therapies that offer holistic well being as a goal of treatment.


Healers hold support group sessions with cancer patients to impart spiritual wisdom and guidance. These sessions can improve the mental attitudes of the patients.


There is also the dangerous kind of healers one should be wary of. They are the kind who offer cancer treatment and promise complete cure using alternative medicine and healing. This is unscientific and has no backing of the medical field. Moreover, they should be avoided as they can complicate the existing condition, in the worst-case scenario, to the point of no return. While these are frequently reported to the authorities, one should keep an eye open for such miracle cures and remedies. 


Benefits of Community Support from Healers


  • Proven Benefits of Spirituality: Studies have shown that the spiritual needs of the cancer patient should be met with adequate support from support groups. Spiritual connectedness and awareness, religious inclinations and psychological wellness were found to be linked in a study conducted among patients in Cancer Institute of Imam Khomeini Hospital found that the spiritual needs of the cancer patients need to be recognized and incorporated into the care of the patient by the medical team and caregivers.


  • Recover from Spiritual Distress: It is not uncommon for cancer patients to experience spiritual distress. It is proven in a study that this can directly affect the person’s experiences and contribute to poorer health and psychosocial outcomes. 


  • Lower Depression: Depression is a common condition seen in a significant number of cancer patients. Spiritual connectedness and guidance from healers can help find inner peace and enjoy life despite the pain, fear, and exhaustion associated with cancer.


  • Lower levels of stress: Spiritual support from the community can help a person beat the fears and stress of cancer progressing and recurring. Spirituality can act as a buffer against the stress associated with cancer treatment. Support groups actively encourage spiritual healing for stress and other mental issues. 


  • Reduced Side Effects: Spiritual activities such as meditation have shown to help relax the mind and hence ease the harsh side effects of cancer treatment. Yoga, massage, and meditation have also shown to reduce the swelling and inflammation associated with cancer treatment. A positive mindset can also create a sense of reduced suffering, creating a higher will power for healing. 


  • Leading a peaceful life: Terminal cancer patients can find immense comfort and solace through religious customs and rituals. Religious beliefs can ease the patient into acceptance and a peaceful quality of life. Religious preferences and spiritual needs of terminal patients need to be honored.