The importance of a circle of support when diagnosed with cancer

23 Aug 2021

The reality of a cancer diagnosis is often hard to comprehend, and even harder to fathom how, with treatments, scans, blood tests, surgeries, you will ever possibly make it through. And even though you are surrounded by family and friends, desperate to assist, it’s often hard to ask for it, or accept it when it’s offered.

Family and friends, however, are more often than not all too willing to help, whether that’s picking up the groceries or dropping the kids to a sporting match, it’s sometimes the simplest of things that can help you get through the toughest days on the journey.

Offers of help
When the going gets tough, often people simply don’t know what to do in order to assist. From personal experience, they’re scared to tread on your toes, or get in the way of someone else who may already be offering something similar. While some friends are a great listening ear, others feel they are able to support better by offering practical support.

Naturally, asking for help can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to. Remember, that your friends and family love you and they want to be there to support you. Even asking a single friend to juggle the incoming offers and scheduling meal rosters etc. can take a load off your shoulders, whilst also allowing you to get the support you need, when you need it most.

Smartphone apps such as CanDo, LOVILIST or Caringbridge are just a few options you can use to set list tasks and roster friends and families on, based on their abilities and interests. They are also an excellent way to share updates with friends and family about the progress of your treatment.

Ways family and friends can help
It’s always difficult to respond to the standard comment, ‘I’m here if you need anything,” but then not knowing what to say. Below are some easy suggestions to get you started:

Start with the practical
Think about the things that take time and energy that you might not feel up to after a round of treatment:

    • Preparing meals
    • Household chores such as a load of washing
    • Grocery shopping
    • Taking you to appointments
    • Sharing an after-school drop off roster

Let them keep the overwhelm of enquires at bay
By appointing a friend or family member to update others, it can feel a lot less overwhelming and ensures you keep loved ones informed but can keep focused on yourself.

Offer nothing more than friendship
Sometimes it’s just a listening ear or a big embrace that is enough to know that they’re there for you, no matter what.

Other Support Sources
Sometimes, despite the best of intentions of loved ones, they’re just not the ones you want to turn to when you’re facing a serious illness. That being said, you shouldn’t have to face this alone.

In addition to Pink Hope’s incredible community of online support groups, there are a number of other tremendous support services including Breast Cancer Network Australia, Ovarian Cancer Australia, and Cancer Council Australia that can help.

When should I get professional support?
It’s to be expected that after a cancer diagnosis you will feel a sense of sadness and worry. However, when these feelings begin to feel ‘stuck’ or you are starting to feel anxious or blue for extended periods of time, it’s important to consider seeking professional assistance to help you navigate these feelings and to ensure you are supported as best as possible on your journey.

Professional help is worth considering if you feel any of the below:

    • Are finding it difficult to function on a daily basis
    • Have lost the desire to do things that would have previously brought you joy
    • Feeling down or depressed for the majority of the day, for consecutive days
    • Begin to rely on drugs or alcohol to get you through the day
    • Notice a change in your appetite such as excessive eating, or loss of appetite
    • Sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping generally
    • Are thinking about self-harm

Anxiety and depression are common amongst people who have had cancer, but you do not need to face this alone. Your healthcare team and GP will be able to help put some support systems in place to help you navigate these feelings. You can also call Cancer Council 13 11 20, or get in touch with beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or at For 24-hour crisis support, call Lifeline 13 11 14 or visit

Health professionals who can help

Your GP can support you with treatment decisions and will work in partnership with your specialists to provide ongoing care. They can refer you to other health professionals for support with managing emotions or thoughts by working with you on a mental health care plan to access psychologists or social workers in your local area.

Cancer care team
The team at your hospital or treatment centre will often include social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and spiritual care practitioners. If you let your cancer specialist, cancer care coordinator or cancer nurse know how you are feeling, they can arrange for you to see these other health professionals as needed.

A psycho-oncologist is a social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist who has specialised in the field of cancer care (oncology). They provide support to people with cancer and their families and often work in hospitals and cancer treatment centres.

Counsellors can listen to what's going on in your life and offer strategies for dealing with issues. They do not need to have any qualifications to practise, although many do, so it's always a good idea to check before making an appointment. Counselling may be available through your local Cancer Council – call 13 11 20 to find out.

Psychologists often develop expertise in particular approaches – those who specialise in counselling use their understanding of the mind to guide clients through issues with how they think, feel and learn.

Mental health nurse
The role of a mental health nurse includes assessing people, giving medicines and assisting in behaviour modification programs. They must be a registered nurse who has completed further study in mental health nursing.

A psychiatrist is a trained medical doctor who specialises in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental illness. As well as providing psychological support and discussing issues with patients, a psychiatrist may prescribe medicines to help manage a range of emotional conditions. You need a referral from your GP to see a psychiatrist.

Spiritual care practitioner
Also known as a pastoral carer, a spiritual care practitioner is often a member of the team at hospitals and cancer treatment centres. They can discuss emotional and spiritual matters and help you reflect on your life and search for meaning. They can also arrange prayer services and other religious rituals, if appropriate.

Cancer Council
If you just want to talk through your concerns or you're not sure where to go for help, you can talk to a health professional at Cancer Council by calling 13 11 20.

Remember, at Pink Hope, we are here to support you, so please remember, we are just a phone call, email or DM away. The community are here for you.