Providing emotional support for cancer patients as an oncology phlebotomist is one of the biggest rewards of my life. That being said what can be more challenging is knowing the ways to provide them the support and love they need at a particular stage they may be in.
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This being said, this is where it can be tricky because in all honesty even though I’ve worked in the oncology field for almost five years now, as was previously stated, I don’t always know the “right thing” to do in providing the emotional support our cancer patients need.
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Sweet Friend, being an Oncology Phlebotomist has taught me so much about perspective and cherishing the moments and simple things in life we often take for granted. Most importantly you appreciate the fact that if you personally have health issues you’re struggling with you can always find someone who has it much worse.
TIPS FOR PROVIDING EMOTIONAL SUPPORT TO CANCER PATIENTS
To begin with, at my Dr’s office all you have to do is spend a few moments in the waiting room and it doesn’t take long at all to see another who is worse off than you. With this in mind, the patients are feeling emotions such as anger, sadness, helplessness, and confusion. It is often hard for others to know what to say or do in providing them comfort and practical support.
More often than not we fear that displaying “our” emotions will hurt them and that will make them uncomfortable. With that in mind remember it is our strength that will make all the difference. So how can you offer support without breaking down yourself? That being said I want to share my tips with you to give you a better understanding of how to help your patient.
Don’t be afraid of showing them YOUR emotions
To be honest I haven’t gotten this mastered just yet. I tell my patients all the time I truly believe that God has given me too much heart and compassion. In saying this I know that’s just silliness however I wear my heart on my sleeve so to speak.
It is ONLY by the grace of God I can stay grounded working in oncology especially when you lose someone to cancer but you have the opportunity to make a difference in the family’s lives and you will be rewarded with treasured memories to last a lifetime. But to the point, the patients need me to provide them with emotional support and give it selflessly.
Knowing when to listen and yet understand their silence
I have learned the patients well enough to know when they need to get something off their chest. That being said I watch for their cues. If they are wanting to vent their frustrations allow them to do so and be a good listener because that’s what they’re needing. Trust me on that. I can not tell you countless times where I simply pull my curtain closed so they can get what they need off their chest.
However, a patient may also not want to talk at all. PLEASE try to be considerate and understanding and don’t take it personally. Words are not always important but simply being there for them is. Your patient may have much on their mind and forcing them to talk can make them become irritated and shut down. Believe this or not but silence is comforting and allows them to express what they may be thinking and dealing with.
Don’t avoid looking them in the eyes
With this intention maintain eye contact with your patient. This gives them the assurance that you are truly present and listening carefully to what they have to say therefore reiterating they are important to you. Also, our body language and facial expressions will show them our care and support. Also, don’t let the distractions around you to keep from giving them your full attention, therefore, viewing them as our priority.
The reality when you are providing emotional support to cancer patients
To begin with, just this past week I had a patient that I could tell has been struggling more than usual. In all sincerity, my heart is breaking watching their drastic decline in health. Furthermore, they were intentionally avoiding making eye contact with me and with me knowing them on such a personal level I asked them “Hunny what’s wrong?” They replied, “Angie I don’t want you to see me breaking down and being weak!”
Bittersweet truth from a cancer patients point of view
Ugh, as if that wasn’t enough in itself to bring tears to my eyes they also said, “I don’t want you witnessing my weakness because I’m supposed to be strong for you!” I said, “you do not have to worry about thinking I view you as weak for breaking down in tears and it’s ok for you to vent and NOT be strong all the time and handed them a few tissues!” I also said, “allow God to be your strength right now!”
Offer them a smile, hug, a shoulder to lean on, and give them a sense of normalcy
Kindness and compassion go a long way and are important ways of demonstrating we understand how difficult their situation is. In other words, “BE THERE” by showing tender loving care. Just knowing they have a shoulder to cry on will bring them much-needed comfort.
Maintain a sense of normalcy. Talk to them as you would a friend and focus on the individual, not so much the disease because they are more than the actual disease. For example, be honest and truthful, in saying, “I’m so sorry and I don’t know what to say” Quite often I will say “If I could take this from you I would.”
Choose Your Words Carefully
In addition to this choose the words you speak with care when trying to offer emotional support to cancer patients. Below are a few examples of what is considered both good and bad things to say to a patient.
Good examples of Providing Emotional Support for Cancer Patients include:
I’m really sorry this is happening to you and I realize it’s not fair.
If you want to talk about it, I’m here to listen.
How are you going to proceed and how can I help?
Please let me know if you need anything.
Remember I’m here for you and will do all I can for you.
Bad examples of Providing Emotional Support for Cancer Patients include:
I know exactly how you feel.
Allow me to help you consider what you should do.
I’m positive you’ll be fine so try not to worry.
I know someone who had the exact same diagnosis.
Has Dr’s given you any idea how long you have?
Do not say, “I know what you’re going through.” The patient may possibly become upset because in all honesty we can’t comprehend to know and understand how they may feel.
Don’t give advice on how they should proceed with their care
We are NOT qualified to give them sound advice. As hard as that can be at times that should be up to their doctors, families, etc… However, I’m so guilty of doing this very thing. They’ll ask “Angie what should I do or if it were you what would do?” When offering and providing emotional support to cancer patients it can be a fine line on how to be 100% honest with them.
That being said, when a patient asks me point-blank my opinion I respond in saying that they may not want to know where I stand on the issue. They’ll say if I didn’t want to know I wouldn’t ask. Much to often I have an open mouth and insert leg syndrome.
Brutal honesty in giving “my advice” on how a cancer patient should proceed on treatment
To get to the point I’m too honest with my feelings on treatment and my reply is blunt. If a Doctor states “Angie you have cancer and we must start treatment right away!” I would decline it due to the fact I see first hand every day how it affects people. Not to mention I already have a compromised immune system so I know how it would be for me.
My response is met with confusion because here they are fighting for life while I would choose not to and they don’t understand. They’ll have tears in their eyes saying “Angie don’t you want to be here for your family?” I’m like of course I do but they already understand my wishes on this, but for me personally…I KNOW I will be going to a better place!
Not to mention the suffering I see daily. Again they’ll say “I’m considering stopping treatment” and ask my opinion. Truthfully I give it straightforward. My reply is “you have to consider quality vs quantity sometimes.
Limit saying everything is going to be Ok or try not to worry
In my office alone these words are spoken countless times to our cancer patients in a single day. To tell the truth, they prefer NOT to hear this sentence at all because they tell me, my coworkers, family, etc… “but what if it’s not okay”, or “How do you know? Instead of trying to reassure them everything is gonna be ok and not to worry, reassure them they will make it through cancer and you will be with them throughout their journey.
Have conversations that don’t include cancer
In all honesty, they can get really tired of talking about the disease and patients do NOT want to feel like their ONLY identity is being a “CANCER PATIENT.” Try to keep things normal, laughing and talking about other things, is a must needed distraction. Talking about everyday topics helps them keep their minds off the “disease” and brings meaning and fulfillment in their lives.
Support for Cancer Patients
As a final point on Tips for Providing Emotional Support for Cancer Patients
Above all best and most importantly be yourself around them. Much too often we worry about if we are doing and saying things in the right way. With this in mind, the patients do not want us to treat them as if we need to be walking on eggshells around them. It’s of the utmost importance that we allow our words and actions to reflect what’s in our hearts. Remember sweet friend, what our cancer patient needs above all else at this time in their lives are compassion and genuine caring. Reassure them that God’s got this and it’s going to be ok!
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