Oncology nurses, social workers, and other healthcare professionals can work with patients and caregivers to highlight the strengths of existing social connections, empower patients to develop adaptive coping mechanisms, and search for additional support and resources outside of their networks or areas of expertise. Oncology nurses, in particular, are well-positioned to do so as they can provide support-strengthening strategies in ways that are realistic and informed by individual medical needs and the social context of the person with cancer.2

Professionals experienced in the needs of people impacted by cancer can assist patients and caregivers in defining and refining what their needs are, which can create clarity for those around them who may be interested in helping. Peer support organizations, such as Imerman Angels, and organizations that provide a combination of professional and peer-based programs, such as CancerCare and Cancer Support Community/Gilda’s Club, may prove useful in creating meaningful connections in the lives of patients and caregivers after a diagnosis. Professionally led support groups — whether in-person, online, or via telephone — can help people living with cancer find a space where their thoughts and feelings surrounding a diagnosis are heard and validated.3 Online tools such as My Cancer Circle, can help caregivers more efficiently organize their communities of support, formally outlining roles and responsibilities for friends, and creating a space for open communication within a network.


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Communities of support have become evermore specific in the digital age and people living with cancer don’t have to go far to find others with their diagnosis. Peer support and support from professionals with a specific background in oncology can mediate stress by providing new pathways to experiential knowledge. Most importantly, health care professionals that specialize in oncology can help people living with cancer respond to and cope with a diagnosis by creating connections in ways that existing systems of support may not be equipped to provide.


A.J. Cincotta-Eichenfield is an oncology social worker with CancerCare. 


References

1. Merluzzi TV, Philip EJ, Yang M, Heitzmann CA. Matching of received social support with need for support in adjusting to cancer and cancer survivorship. Psychooncology. 2016;25(6):684-690.

2. Henshall CL, Greenfield SM, Gale NK. Typologies for restructuring relationships in cancer survivorship. Cancer Nurs. 2018;41(6):E32-E40.

3. Clarke PG, Bolte S. Sense making in living with cancer as a chronic illness. In Christ G, Messner C, Behar L, eds. Handbook of Oncology Social Work: Psychosocial Care for People with Cancer. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2015.

4. Applebaum AJ, Stein EM, Lord-Bessen J, Pessin H, Rosenfeld B, Breitbart W. Optimism, social support, and mental health outcomes in patients with advanced cancer. Psychooncology. 2014;23(3):299-306.