Pancreatic Cancer

Support from family and friends

Support from family and friends can be crucial in coping with a serious illness. People said that family members had offered practical and emotional support at every stage of their illness (also see ‘Telling others about the illness’).
Peter (Interview 36), for example, recalled that at a point when he was too ill to make decisions his wife had helped him copy his CAT scans to send them off to America to get a second opinion about treatment options. Alison said that her husband had been ‘absolutely brilliant’. He had helped her to believe that she would recover. Ann emphasised that her husband had been ‘fantastic’ and had ‘even started to cook’. She pointed out that a long illness can be tough for the carer, husband or partner too and that their needs should not be forgotten. People’s grown-up children and parents had helped too. Many children, for example, had searched the internet for information about the latest treatments (see ‘Finding information’), and parents had helped with the care of younger children.
Davinder’s daughter was a great support throughout her illness. For example, she visited Davinder in intensive care' although Davinder was still unconscious she talked to her and told her that she was fine and that she was breathing well. Davinder was sure that these positive thoughts had registered in her own brain. She called this approach ‘neuro-linguistic programming’, an approach which uses attitude towards illness to effect change and to promote healing. She felt sure that her daughter’s actions had helped her to think positively, which in turn had helped her body.
People recalled how their friends and colleagues had helped too. They had helped with shopping, housework, and cooking. They had picked up young children from school and had driven people to hospital appointments. They had sent flowers and cards and had been willing to listen when they were needed. Vicky was glad to have friends who had had cancer themselves. She could phone some of them at any time to talk about her illness. Maureen’s friends supported her with their emails, prayers, pledges of love and reiki healing (see ‘Complementary therapies’). Ben said that family and friends had given him practical help and encouragement, including some in distant places who he had contacted through emails and Facebook.
Richard (Interview 22) felt that this was a difficult time for his three sons aged 16-23 and that they needed his support. He was grateful for the support of his children, his ex-wife and his many friends, reflecting that ‘one of the things that cancer brings out is the love and affection of others around you’.
William and David (Interview 30) stressed that it was important to ask for help when help was needed. When David’s wife Fiona was very ill he had needed help with their young children.
Accepting help may not come naturally to some people. John (Interview 21) said that when his wife was ill they found it quite hard to accept help from other people because he and his wife were used to being independent. Helen admitted that she was very proud and didn’t like asking anyone for help in the house. However, she was glad to know that help was available if she needed it. William suggested that some people ‘over-react’ and ‘over-support’, and Donna found that some people phoned too often. John suggested that people don’t want to talk about their illness all the time and sometimes want a ‘normal conversation’.
Some family members were better than others when it came to giving support. Some people said they couldn't talk to some family members about their illness because they were in denial, while they could talk to others. Some people realised that some of their friends found illness embarrassing and had avoided seeing them rather than having to deal with it (see ‘Telling others about the illness’). Others recalled that family members or friends had broken down when they heard the bad news and that it had been hard to cope with their negative or emotional reactions. In that situation people felt they had to support others at a time when they needed the support themselves.
Peter (Interview 13) had to cope with cancer without his wife’s support. He suggested that she found it hard to talk about illness partly because she was ill herself and partly because she feared the future. Peter was well supported by his children and by his friends. However, when he told members of his own family, such as his grandchildren, about his illness he felt he had to reassure them.

Although Peter’s (Interview 13) wife found it too painful to discuss the future with him, several people made it clear how important it was to have someone they could talk to openly about their worst fears and feelings. For Maureen this had been her husband, and a close friend who had died of breast cancer. Steve shared his fears with his wife but he also talked to good friends he had made through his church and to other ‘secular friends’ who worked as doctors. Steve could ‘unburden’ himself and ‘talk with people when necessary and laugh with people’. There was, he said, ‘a lot of black humour in my life sometimes.’ Ann felt she and her husband shouldn’t always have to be talking about illness, so she valued having friends she could talk about it to. That way it was easier to ‘joke and laugh and for life to just go on and have fun still’. 

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Last reviewed September 2018.


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