While attending an “I Can Cope with Cancer Seminar”, two senior citizens, a woman and a man brought to the forefront the fears associated with loneliness and cancer. If not experienced or heard first hand from a cancer survivor, the possible debilitating side effect of loneliness could be misunderstood or minimized. Instead the two survivors shared their fears and unnerving sense of uncertainty clearly illustrating their intense struggle of attempting to cope.
The issue of loneliness was revealed during a session on Home Health Care. If on Medicaid, fears associated with loneliness can be exacerbated as a result of the restrictions of Medicaid such as; “Home health care recipients typically cannot travel outside of the home because of their condition.” (1) Isolation further complicates and magnifies the effects of loneliness.
First the man shared his story of loneliness bringing the room to a hush with all attentively leaning forward in their chair captivated by every word. His story with cancer has been rough as he has had side effects complicating his situation with advanced cancer. Yet his grace of gratitude and spirit is welcoming to encourage others to stand tall and not give-up. He shared that his greatest fear is loneliness. He lives alone in a tiny apartment with family many states away. He feels great comfort from the compassionate care provided by his doctor and entire staff at the cancer center, that he is fearful to move away. He rarely hears from family and sees them infrequently as traveling is too physically demanding and exhausting for him. He loves his family and misses them dearly. His only friends are those within the support group he attends.
For him the greatest fear of loneliness is the lacking sense of belonging, community and contribution. During a break I assured him that his willingness to share his story with such openness touches all deeply and we are so grateful and fortunate that his life has crossed our paths to warm hearts and raise spirits. I said to him, your contribution to others is invaluable. His eyes lit up and he hugged me to say thank you. His compassionate generosity to share his story is a blessing of healing to those in the cancer community.
The woman’s story echoed the difficulty of dealing with loneliness associated with cancer. However, her story shared the additional fears of losing independence and companionship. She too lives alone with mobility becoming more of a factor as time passes. Her greatest fear is losing the freedom of grocery shopping as a social event and providing food to survive. Any knock on the door frightens her with the uncertainty of who is on the other side, so she sits quietly until the knocking ceases. This may be true with most senior citizens living alone, but seems to be heightened with the often greater awareness and sensitivity of cancer survivors. Her loss of companionship and lack of conversation with no one to share tears or laughter magnifies her loneliness and isolation.
Their stories painted a dismal picture of despair, loss and fear. We often think of depression as the greatest emotion demanding attention, yet the need for attention to address loneliness appears to be secondary even though it can be as debilitating as depression. It may not be fair or reasonable to try to quantify the troubling effects of one emotion to another. Yet doing so hopefully draws further attention to the debilitating effects of loneliness associated with cancer and aging.
Effects of loneliness are not only complicated, but difficult to recognize. We can be lonely when alone or within a group. Accompanying loneliness is isolation. Peers and friends might include or tolerate us within a group but isolate us from contributing. Living alone, no matter the accommodations, can contribute to feeling as if we are confined to four walls with little hope of escape. We can also unknowingly let cancer isolate us from friends and family from feeling we have become a burden. Unfortunately family and friends can isolate us as well from fear of possibly hurting us by saying or doing the wrong thing, so instead they avoid contact thus unintentionally alienating us to a state of loneliness.
How can loneliness be addressed? A solid beginning point would be a grassroots effort of action for fellow cancer survivors and caregivers to be like a big brother, sister, friend, or pal to adopt a survivor struggling with loneliness. We can say we don’t have the time, which is false, or we are disinterested. There are numerous ways to encourage those struggling to lift their spirits in hopes of improving demeanor and outlook to soften their pain of loneliness. By taking the initiative to reach out to help those struggling to emerge from the abyss of loneliness and isolation we can make a positive difference in people’s lives.
Ways to Contribute to Help those Fighting Loneliness:
- Simply put – engagement
- Phone calls
- Text messages
- Write letters
- Take grocery shopping or deliver groceries
- Take to the library
- Go out for coffee or lunch
- Celebrate special moments
- Attend an event of their choice
Some ways may seem time consuming while others require little time. It’s not so much about the time we give, but more about taking action and for the right reasons. Imagine if each of us reached out to one person, how we could help unimaginable numbers suffering from loneliness. Take the first step to get their contact information. Then only one more step, contact them. We can make a difference without ever realizing how favorably we impacted their life. We just need to try.
If you feel lonely, isolated or alienated try the site cancer.org then under Programs and Services near the bottom of the page click Online Support Communities, then click Cancer Survivors Network to open a community of interaction between cancer survivors felling loneliness and loss. If more is needed, please contact your cancer treatment center for professional help to assist you to heal and recover from the debilitating effects of loneliness.
Tips for Those Fighting Loneliness – Cancer:
- Engage with others
- Participate in groups and events offered by Hospital/Cancer Centers
- Volunteer at church or community functions
- Establish a phone, text, e-mail or Facebook network
- Stay active away from home
- Find a hobby
- Take classes, painting, writing, cooking, etc.
Loneliness with cancer probably is more prevalent than what is believed in that cases most likely go unreported or undetected. More needs to be done in palliative care to screen cancer survivors for lasting conditions begging for help. The need for cancer care does not cease at the conclusion of treatment.
References: (eHow – Article, Medicaid Requirements for In-Home Care, By Maggie Gebremichael, eHow contributor – Retrieved 1 September 2014)
Now is the time to take action to either help yourself or others experiencing the debilitating effects of loneliness and isolation associated with cancer. Learn tips to cope with this condition to improve the journey and life. There is no need to accept loneliness as the new normal to allow it to dictate how we live each day. Instead discover ways to gradually escape the despair to see that you can emerge from the emotional isolating constraints of loneliness. Often we accept our new normal and life follows this new dark path. Say no more, I’ve had enough, I want better. The first step is the most important, be patient and persists as other steps toward peace will follow. Brush aside pride and stoic mentality that you can do this alone, to ask for help in hopes to improve your journey and hopefully build friendships and relationships to no longer walk alone.
Find Steven Ward at his website – http://www.lifesnotes.me/