Q. My daughter who is in her 50s had cancer. Since her operation and recovery, she has become a recluse afraid to be with people and appears to be infected with any cold, flu or any bug that is in the environment. She just watches TV and sleeps with no social contacts. How can I help her?
It’s common for people to continue to feel the physical and emotional impact of a cancer diagnosis months after their treatment is complete. It’s possible that her immune system is still recovering causing her to pick up illnesses and viruses easily. If she hasn’t already, she may want to talk to her doctor to determine if there is anything she should do or if it’s just part of the healing process.
As far as her emotional coping, she may be experiencing anxiety due to fear of recurrence, she might feel isolated if she doesn’t have anyone to connect with that understands what she went through, she may be depressed because of her diagnosis or she’s self-conscious about body changes from surgery. One way to support her is by listening and normalizing her feelings. Let her know that it’s okay for her to feel scared or sad and that you’re there to support her. Tell her you’re worried about her and that you want to help. You can suggest support services such as a post-treatment support group where she can connect with others who might be going through similar struggles. It’s possible that body changes from treatment are causing her to be self-conscious and another person who has been through similar treatment might be able to relate to her and give her advice on how to cope. CancerCare offers an online group for people who have completed treatment that could be helpful.
You can also encourage her to talk to her doctor about how she’s coping emotionally. Her doctor may provide a referral to a therapist or psychiatrist for further evaluation and treatment if she is experiencing debilitating anxiety or depression. Both anxiety and/or depression are common among cancer patients and survivors. Going through cancer is a stressful and scary event and there’s no shame in asking for extra help.
Another suggestion would be to take her for a short walk or out shopping. Walking, getting outdoors or physical activity can be helpful in boosting someone’s mood. Or, ask her if she’s up for visitors and bring over a trusted friend or family member that can talk to her and lift her spirits.
It’s great that she has you to support her as she recovers from her treatment. Just know that it takes time for someone to recover. Be patient with her and listen when she tells you what she needs.
I hope this information is helpful. If you are looking for more information, resources or support I encourage you to contact our Hopeline at 800-813-HOPE (4673). You may also view all of our post-treatment resources.