Iris Mini: Social Support Strategies

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.” – William Shakespeare

Cancer impacts many areas of life – physical, emotional, social, financial, and spiritual. Because of this, you may need more support than you did before cancer. Asking for and receiving help from others can be difficult and disorienting. You may be concerned about burdening others, being perceived as weak, or the other person “taking over” more than you want. 

Asking for help can make you feel very vulnerable. Remember:

  • Identifying needs is a process that takes time

  • Needs may change over time

  • Meeting your needs may require frequent communication

What Can Help with Managing Social Support?

People often want to help when they discover you have cancer, but they may not know what to do. Fielding and selecting the offers that truly meet your needs can be overwhelming. 

  • Consider asking someone in your support network to organize offers of assistance from others 

  • Ask one person in your support network to be responsible for providing others with updates on your health and well-being 

  • Explore using a tool such as Lotsa Helping, or CaringBridge to simplify communication and asking for and updating specific needs as they arise 

Circles of Support

Think about your social support in concentric circles. As the person with cancer, imagine yourself at the center of a concentric circle with each ring representing people in your life. The people closest to you are in the innermost ring, while acquaintances and social media friends are in the outer rings. This visual can help you decide who to invite in to support you at different times. You might find that at very vulnerable times you reach to the inner circle. At other, less vulnerable times, you may reach out to others in the middle circle or the outer rings. Welcome in anything that offers comfort and feels nourishing, while sending out things that deplete you.

Taking Action

Say yes. Accepting help may feel vulnerable, but it can also be a sign of strength. Each person has strengths, which reflect on the types and ways they may offer support. It can help to match the type of support you are seeking to the person in your support network that can best provide it. Consider categorizing your support people into “do-ers,” “listeners,” and “respite” groups to help decide who can best help with different needs, easing the challenge of asking for and accepting support. The Iris Mini: Asking for What You Need addresses these various types of helpers.

Say no. As you begin to organize your social support needs, recognize the need to create boundaries and set limits with those around you. You may have to say “no” or decline participating in certain interactions or social situations. While this may feel uncomfortable, keep in mind that this is not about being selfish or disappointing those around you. Rather this is about protecting yourself and conserving your energy for those people and experiences that fulfill you the most right now. The Iris Mini: Setting Boundaries offers tips for setting boundaries and managing other people’s perceptions.