Are Support Services for Me?

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Patient and Family Support

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How Will I Know If Counseling Is Working?

Deciding if you are benefiting from counseling is something you should try to figure out with the social worker or counselor you are seeing. It is perfectly all right to ask the social worker how he/she will know if it's helping. You will also decide on what problems you need to work on, as some are more bothersome than others are. The oncology social worker should also ask you periodically is you are getting what you need. Since we aren't mind readers, we will want you to be honest about what seems to be helping and what is not. In general, if you are feeling more in control of your feelings and life is getting "back to normal", counseling is probably helping. You can also ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you gaining more insight into the nature of your difficulty?
  • Do you feel less anxious or worried?
  • Is it easier to make decisions?
  • Can you act on those decisions?
  • Do you have a clear idea where you are going, or what needs working on immediately and what can wait until later?
  • Are you more in control over how you are feeling and behaving?
  • Can you put cancer aside and focus on other things?
  • Can the counselor give you some idea of how long you will need help?
  • Could you tell your doctor how counseling is helping?

Your family should consider the same questions if they are involved in the counseling sessions. If your answers to these questions seem positive, you are probably on the right track. If you don't feel good about your answers to these questions, discuss them with your social worker. If the relationship with the counselor doesn't feel comfortable or trusting, the sooner you address that, the better. It may be that we may not have understood your expectations or something else is bothering you that is interfering with the process. Sometimes it's hard to understand what makes a relationship work. If it looks like what we are doing is not helpful, we will want to change that, or if that's not possible, to help you to get to someone else who is a better match for you. You may also call the department (215-728-2668) to request another social worker. Our goals and yours are the same--to help you and your family get the best services possible so that you can move on with your life.

Does Medication Help People Cope With Cancer?

Feeling positive about the future helps many people with cancer get through the bad times. It also helps to enjoy life with those who are important to you. Hope is an essential ingredient in coping with cancer; if people feel hopeless, coping with cancer is very difficult. If you are feeling this way most of the time, you are probably quite depressed and anxious. An antidepressant medication may be what you need to help you get on with day to day living. Antidepressants usually work better if you are also talking with someone about how you are feeling.

Talk to your family doctor or oncologist if you think you are depressed. Sometimes people are reluctant to tell their doctors about depression because they worry that somehow it will take the focus off of getting rid of the cancer. Or that they will be considered "weak" or even emotionally unstable. Doctors are very familiar with human suffering and usually become physicians in order to help people. Your doctor will not think less of you if you ask for help-in fact you are taking active steps to take control of your life. There is a wide range of drugs available and your doctor probably has had experience in using them with other patients. Some of them take a few weeks to work so be patient. Sometimes people need to try several kinds of drugs to find the one right for them. If the drug doesn't seem to be helping, your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist who is a specialist in using antidepressants. It may be that you need another class of drugs, need the dosage adjusted or a combination of medications may be the answer.

Are Support Services for Everyone?

There are people who need little or no help in dealing with the experience of cancer. These people may be blessed with "good genes", supportive families, resilience in handling stress, generous incomes and insurance resources, superior flexibility and problem solving abilities, strong spirituality and a history of successful coping over a lifetime. If these people possess accurate information about their cancer diagnosis and treatment, they will probably never seek out counseling services.

For many other people, counseling may be very useful. However, there is a built in barrier that needs to be overcome. This barrier relates to our attitudes about asking for help. As we discussed about help with depression, for many people, the idea of getting help for emotional or family problems is problematic. It is thought of as a sign of weakness or even that the person is unstable or "crazy." The American culture puts a high premium on being independent and able to solve any problem that comes along. This cultural norm leads to people suffering more than is necessary when a situation like cancer presents itself. It may seem to you that some people sail through the cancer experience, never revealing any stress or difficulty dealing with it. So people make all kinds of judgments about themselves and say things like "what's wrong with me that I can't seem to cope with my problems?" Or, "I should be able to just 'tough it out' until the trouble passes." While we all have this tendency to feel we should be able to manage just about anything, there will be times in this experience that toughing it out just doesn't work.

A person's ability to manage stress depends on a great many things. Some of these are genetic and related to physiologic factors like the influence of hormones on our ability to feel balanced in our reactions to stress. Most people believe that babies come into the world with a predetermined set of characteristics, which are part of our genetic makeup. This "personality" that we are born with doesn't change a great deal as we grow but is influenced significantly by our life experiences. These life experiences influence whom we become as adults, or our "self image." Other important factors are our relationships with people, especially our parents and siblings, cultural factors, how we were educated, intelligence, relationship to God or a "higher power", career success, finances, gender or sexual identity, and our physical and mental health. So human beings are extremely complex and will vary in their ability to understand themselves and their reactions to stressful experiences.