November 1, 1999
Andrew Kneier, PhD
Melanoma Patient Educator and Counselor
The term emotional support is commonly used when talking about the needs of cancer patients. However, this concept means different things to different people. Let's discuss what it means, how to obtain it, and how it helps.
In general, a person dealing with cancer receives emotional support when other people say or do things that help him or her to feel better. For some, words of encouragement, hope, and optimism are felt to be emotionally supportive. But for others, such expressions convey a certain message: Don't feel so scared or upset. In other words, Don't feel how you feel. Although this message is not intended, it can still feel non-supportive. It can convey that a person's normal, legitimate emotions are not right or should not be experienced and expressed. Some people would rather hear: "I think I understand how you feel. I feel upset too. I'll stick with you through all this, no matter what happens."
If you are dealing with cancer, it would be good to think about the kind of emotional support you need, to identify what you need from others. This might not be so much what you'd like others to say. but what you'd like them to do in the way of practical help or support. For example, someone going with you to a doctor's appointment, or preparing a meal for you, can mean a great deal. This is the first step -- to check in with yourself about what you need. The second step is to ask for it. Some people are pretty good at this, but others worry that they would be imposing on others, and therefore hold back in asking for help. If this is true of you, you might say to a family member or friend: "It's so hard for me to ask you to do this; I don't want to be a burden to anyone." Such a comment will probably open up a good discussion between you, and the person will probably reassure you that you are not a burden at all.
Emotional support -- that is, having others say or do things that make you feel better -- is good for your mental and physical health. Research has shown that people who get support are better able to cope with cancer and that their immune system is better. But it's unlikely that you'll get the support you need unless you express your emotions and what you need from others.
These are some ideas to kick off a discussion on emotional support. Please join in. You might mention some things that others have said or done that made you feel better.
If you wish to obtain information about the UCSF Melanoma Center, or schedule an appointment, please call 415-885-7585.
Andrew Kneier, Ph.D., Melanoma Patient Educator and Counselor