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Ovarian Cancer

Support from family and friends and spirituality

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...

Received visits, cards and flowers from friends and had plenty of people she could phone if she...

Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 59
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My husband was wonderful, very, very supportive and friends were superb. I had a lot of back-up from friends, both coming to see me and sending me cards and flowers, it was wonderful.  

Yes a great deal of support. I mean, you do tend to get tearful once in a while and I always knew that I could ring somebody up and you do get depressed. Whether that's the drugs I don't know, but there were times when I was quite depressed and I only had to ring somebody up and I could talk, I could ramble, and they'd just let me ramble, and that was great. I didn't do it to [husband] because he needed me to be positive. So I used to take it out on friends.

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.

Had a network of friends and family who came and looked after her after her operation.

Age at interview: 57
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 56
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It was like when I came out of the hospital after surgery, they took over. My house was filled with people and they, I had no choice really, I couldn't do anything much. You know, I could just about get myself showered and dressed and that took ages. 

And I had a friend who came down, one of my oldest girlfriends from, who lives in Cumbria, she came down for a week, the first week, after the first weekend, for that first week and she just took over, basically said to my daughter and my sister 'look, I'm here for a week, you know, you'll be needed when I'm gone, I can only give you a week, but let me do everything', and she did. 

And since then my other sister, the one who flew back from Rome,  she's just been my most incredible solid support. She's just unflinchingly, whatever I've needed, and she's done it, she hasn't said 'Can I?, Do you want me to?' Or 'what should I?' She's just done it. I mean more lately as I've become more well and everything, it's, you know, 'Shall we?' or you know, she'll find it hard to know what to do with herself I should think after all this, but anyway.

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...

Explained that her husband did the housework, taking time off when needed, and mopped up after...

Age at interview: 65
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 59
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Tell me how your husband was supportive?

Kind, very kind. If I wanted to do anything, there was a period when I couldn't drive, he would take me anywhere I wanted to go. He actually was working full-time so he would take time off work if I needed to go anywhere or I wanted to go anywhere.  Wouldn't let me do much housework. He tried to find me a cleaner, unsuccessfully, so he took on the role of doing the housework, under duress. And he used to do all the cooking, in fact he still does a lot of cooking now, but he took on the role of doing most of the cooking. And yes, I couldn't have got through the chemo without him. Held my head, held my hand when I was being sick, brought me bowls, sat on the loo with me, well not sat on the loo with me but held my hand in the loo with me. Oh that was something else, it wasn't just being sick, it was both ends and it was unpleasant. And yes, mopping up after me, and that meant quite a lot, because a lot of men would have shied away from that. But yes, I found that very comforting.

 

Her husband continued to go out to play bridge twice a week as a break from his caring...

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Her husband continued to go out to play bridge twice a week as a break from his caring...

Age at interview: 63
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 52
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My husband has been absolutely tremendous. He says the one thing that he needs to keep going is his great hobby of bridge. So he goes out about twice a week in the evening to play bridge, lately as I've got slightly worse the children have sometimes come round to keep me company, both of them live quite close to here. But I don't want to impose too much on their lives either. 'Cos they've got their own lives. I think it's only once that I was in such terrible pain that he didn't go, but  normally I'm quite happy to be on my own, and I'm very lucky that he's a very good cook, I persuaded him that, you know, with all the jobs that he now realises did take up a lot more of my time than he realised, we do have help in the house with the cleaning and so on every fortnight but it took him quite a long time to accept that.  
 

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...

During her chemotherapy she had great support from friends, but it dried up when she finished her...

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 41
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I did have a lot of support from lots of friends, and one of the ways that I found of coping was by talking. And if you tried to get through to us on the phone when I first came back from hospital and while I was having chemotherapy there was a problem, because if people phoned up I would just talk and talk and talk, and that was part of the way I found of coping with it.

And we had all sorts of people helping us, people offered to take me up for chemotherapy. People offered to cook meals, and I know I kept the florist in business locally because there were loads of bouquets of flowers kept arriving, that was really nice to feel that people were really supportive. And people from church were praying for me and there was a huge support network around me.

But I think when you get to the end of treatment people would say to me 'Oh so that's the end of it,' and they will assume that that was the end of the chapter and I was going to be OK and they would forget that there were endless check-ups and the endless concern that if you have a pain for more than a day you think that the cancer is coming back.

 

Would have liked more emotional support from family, friends and colleagues during her treatment.

Would have liked more emotional support from family, friends and colleagues during her treatment.

Age at interview: 58
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 44
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What sort of support have you had from your family and friends and colleagues?

Well very good really. Not many people really talked to me outside the, well in fact family don't even actually talk to me about it. My sister commented the other day 'I feel very guilty about, when I think about you and your chemo because we just left you to get on with it'. And I said 'Well, you wouldn't want it, you wouldn't have wanted to be involved anyway because I wasn't a pretty sight, I wasn't nice to know and I didn't really want anybody around me anyway. So really I'm glad you did that really'. Sometimes it would have been nice perhaps to talk about it and say how I felt and but, you know, we did choose not to make too much of it with them because we just didn't want them to worry too much. 

But, yeah, people were very supportive but they didn't talk to you very much about it. And when you're back at work, once your bum's sitting on the chair, you know, you're fit. Great, you're back at work. You wouldn't be back at work if you weren't fit, would you?  

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.

Gained support from her Christian faith and her prayers.

Age at interview: 48
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 46
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But I thank God even up to now because after that the doctors were kind to me, they were good to me, they tried to explain to me, I still up to now don't understand, because what I do have is the faith that I believe, and that faith that's what helps me more that anything else.  

But now it doesn't matter, I know when God is with me and the God is with doctors, everything's possible. I'm not losing hope. I'll continue hanging on in my faith.

But through the faith things are much much better. And I'm telling you and I'll tell you again, and I'm not ashamed to say it again, I know he's able, God is able, and everything is possible with God, and I got my feelings, yeah I believe it, step by step, I believe it, because my dear, my stomach was rotten, I saw it. Even to sit here like this, it's the grace of the Lord. 

Women also gained support from professionals, support organisations, self-help groups and other people living with cancer (see 'Other sources of support').


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Last reviewed June 2016.

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