Support from family and friends can be crucial in coping with a serious illness. Most women we interviewed had received excellent support from family and friends and that made a tremendous difference to them. Many felt that knowing that people cared had given them the strength to cope with the ordeal.
Family and friends had shown their support in a variety of ways. Many had sent cards, flowers or gifts with good wishes. Some had telephoned, written or visited regularly. Some had prayed with them or for them. Some had given comfort by talking and listening to women’s fears, providing a shoulder to cry on or holding their hand.
Received visits, cards and flowers from friends and had plenty of people she could phone if she…
Others had helped in practical ways. Some gave them lifts or went with them to hospital appointments. Some did shopping or cooking or gave them food or dietary supplements. Some helped with the housework and gardening or looked after pets. Some came to stay to look after them and to help with children and housework, or had them to stay in their home temporarily. Some went with them on walks, took them out or away on holiday. Others helped them to find information or to make plans for the future. One woman’s friend brought her elderly mother to visit her from another part of the country.
Had a network of friends and family who came and looked after her after her operation.
In addition to looking after women during their illness, husbands or partners often had to take over most of the housework and childcare, not always willingly, and sometimes taking time off work to do so. One woman’s husband had also mopped up when chemotherapy had made her sick (see ‘Unwanted effects of chemotherapy’). Others had arranged for professional help with housework, although one woman’s husband had initially been reluctant to have strangers in the house. Partners had also made repeated visits to pharmacies for medicines or fielded telephone calls and visitors at times when women didn’t feel like talking. A couple of women said it was important for their husbands to be able to keep up other interests while fulfilling their caring role.
Explained that her husband did the housework, taking time off when needed, and mopped up after…
Her husband continued to go out to play bridge twice a week as a break from his caring…
A few women commented that the support of friends tended to dry up after the initial few weeks or months after the diagnosis or when treatment finished. One woman would have liked more emotional support from her family, friends and colleagues during her treatment. Another said she had friends and colleagues who lived too far away to be of much practical help. Although she got help with looking after her child, one woman felt there wasn’t much that people could do for her personally and that she preferred to try and do as much for herself as possible. One woman’s husband was too ill himself to be able to look after her, and another’s was an alcoholic and could not help her. Another woman said that none of her friends from the African and Caribbean community ever visited her at home (see ‘Impact on others’).
During her chemotherapy she had great support from friends, but it dried up when she finished her…
Would have liked more emotional support from family, friends and colleagues during her treatment.
Different people clearly want very different types of support from friends and family at different times – for example some may need to talk on the phone for hours, and feel neglected if people don’t call, while others do not want to talk when they are feeling poorly. Some want to go back to being treated normally as soon as possible, while others missed the attention. It can be hard for friends and family to know what to do and they may need some guidance. One woman who said ‘there are only so many times you can tell somebody how you’re feeling’ asked her friends not to phone but to drop notes or letters instead saying what they were doing. Another said she preferred emails to phone calls because people can think about what to write.
Some women found spiritual or religious belief a great source of support. One said she had visited several churches to pray before her operation, and another that her illness had rekindled her faith in God and her relationship with the local church. Some explained that they needed to believe there was a purpose to their illness in order to cope with it.
Gained support from her Christian faith and her prayers.
Women also gained support from professionals, support organisations, self-help groups and other people living with cancer (see ‘Other sources of support’).