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Social worker, Avril de Beer, shares counsel on how to manage a cancer diagnosis and treatment if you live on your own or are single.
Getting a diagnosis of cancer can leave you feeling extremely vulnerable and alone, especially when you’re on your own or living far from your family. You may have concerns about how you’ll be able to cope without the support of a spouse or close family members. Although there will be challenges, you won’t have to face cancer alone.
Connect with people
When you’re used to living alone and functioning independently, it can be hard to admit that you need help. Build your own care network by enlisting trusted friends, family members, neighbours, and close colleagues to help you with the practicalities of getting cancer treatment. For instance, driving you to your treatment sessions and doctors’ appointments, or looking after your pets when you need to be hospitalised. It may be useful to create a group for your care network on an instant messaging platform, for example WhatsApp, to make it easier to ask for assistance with specific tasks and to get a quick response.
You could ask a close friend or family member to accompany you to doctors’ appointments. After all, two pairs of ears are better than one. When your doctor explains your response to the treatment or possible changes in your treatment plan, you may feel too anxious or overwhelmed to take in all the information. It’s helpful to have a friend or family member with you to take notes. If you don’t have someone to accompany you, you can ask the doctor for permission to record the information on your cell phone so that you’re able to listen to it when you’re at home.
Join a support group
Support groups offer you a safe space where you can talk and listen to people who have similar experiences. Sharing experiences in a support group could lead to meaningful connections. Attending support group meetings can alleviate feelings of loneliness, give you the opportunity to come to terms with your diagnosis, and help you cope with the side effects of treatment.
There are various support groups that offer face-to-face and Facebook support, as well as online support programmes. The Big C Online Directory, available on oncologybuddies.com, contains a list of support groups and their contact details.
Talk to your healthcare team
It’s important to share any concerns about your diagnosis, treatment, and side effects with your healthcare team. Many oncology practices in South Africa have full-time social workers who provide emotional support and counselling to patients.
Financial and employment concerns, such as temporary incapacity leave and disability claims, can cause a great deal of anxiety and distress, more so when you are single. The social workers are available to discuss these concerns with you.
The importance of belonging
A sense of community or belonging lies at the heart of African culture. The Zulu saying “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, roughly translated as I am because you are, emphasises the importance of being part of a community. In trying times, you need to feel that you belong to a community who will be there when you need them. The ubuntu values of sharing and caring become vital when you are vulnerable and seeking solace. With the help of your community (your care network), you will have the time and energy to focus on your treatment and recovery.
One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.” – Shannon L. Alder
MEET THE EXPERT – Avril de Beer
Avril de Beer is a social worker at Alberts Cellular Therapy in Pretoria. She is constantly looking for new ways to connect with patients and to learn more about their unique needs. She also has a private practice in Centurion where she counsels individuals who are experiencing major life changes.
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