An article by Female First regarding our survey into how we deal with a cancer diagnosis in the 21st Century. It was once a taboo subject, but we are no longer suffering in silence. The research was a joint study on behalf of Not Another Bunch Of Flowers, Opinium, Aveley Consulting and Lansons PR.
Facing Cancer Today
Cancer affects millions of people on a day-to-day basis, and it's not just the people who suffering with the illness but family and friends around them too.
The people around you form a crucial support network in the war against cancer - but have you ever stopped to consider what the internet and social media does for you?
New research from Not Another Bunch of Flowers and Opinium Research indicates that for younger cancer sufferers, the internet and social media plays a vital role.
More than two thirds of Britons have been affected be cancer in some way; while the majority of those diagnosed with the disease believe they received adequate support from friends, family or other groups to help them deal with the emotional impact of cancer, sadly one in six didn't.
The support spectrum
Most common reactions to diagnosis by friends / family and support offered
- Emotional support (e.g. visits / telephoning)
- Practical support (childcare or cleaning)
- Offered other types of support
- Wanted to help but didn't know what to do
- Sent flowers
- Edible gifts (food parcels etc)
- Pampering gifts
- Offered little or no support
Types of support cancer sufferers found most helpful after diagnosis
- Emotional support
- Practical support
- Reading blogs / stories from other sufferers
- Meeting people in similar situations
- Online forums and groups
- Cancer support groups / charities
- Practical / useful gifts
- Gifts / gestures e.g. flowers
Sharing is essential
Over a third of cancer sufferers polled by Opinium Research felt that sharing the news of their diagnosis with friends and family members was the best way for them to deal with it. However, the internet also plays a very influential role, particularly among those aged 18-34 - half of whom admitted to sharing their news and feelings via social media and blogs.
Many people want to provide support, but don't necessarily know how to do so. As such three in ten of those diagnosed with cancer said they got the feeling that many people wanted to help but didn't know what to do. Just under one in five said they felt people avoided them because they didn't know what to say or do. A fifth also received gifts and products they couldn't eat or use as they were avoiding certain ingredients.
In fact, a third of people who have suffered from cancer said they felt responsible for upsetting those closest to them because of their diagnosis and a quarter felt that people tried to make them feel better but their words of consolation belittled their fears surrounding the diagnosis. A further 16% said that people asked them questions, or made statements, which scared, rather than supported them.
Anikka Burton, founder of website Not Another Bunch of Flowers and creator of blog 'Chemo for Beginners' who was herself diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2011 said: "I can see why people are scared of saying or doing the wrong thing when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, however all people really want to know is that you care and are there for them if they need you. Cancer can be incredibly isolating so being able to share your experience with your loved ones is a great help."
Unfortunately for some, 'the big C' is still seen as a taboo topic, with over one in five who have a friend or relative that has diagnosed with cancer admitting they were reluctant to ask a friend or family member how they were doing because they were unsure whether it was the right thing to do or just didn't like to ask. This apprehension appears unfounded as over half of cancer sufferers say they were glad people cared enough to ask, while only 5% said it made them feel uncomfortable.
The only area where a real disconnect appeared between those diagnosed with cancer and those around them was diet. While over half of those diagnosed with cancer say they changed their diet by avoiding products and substances such as red meat, alcohol and products containing parabens and sulphates, only 16% of those who'd had a friend or relative diagnosed with cancer were aware that they avoided certain foods, while only 7% thought they had avoided using certain products on their skin.
Anikka Burton added: "Following my diagnosis, I like many others, examined my diet far more closely than before as I wanted to become healthier and it was a way of regaining some control. I was advised to avoid dairy and certain chemicals such as parabens. I was not alone in making these changes - many others I have met did the same. Unfortunately this can result in people being unable to eat foods or use products gifted by well-meaning friends. One way to get around this is simply to ask your friend whether they are avoiding certain products or foods, err on the side of caution, or just offer them support in a different way if you don't want to ask."
One of the biggest challenges to those facing cancer is how to move on - especially because most will never really be declared free of the disease. Almost a quarter of sufferers surveyed said their day to day activities are restricted because of their long term health problems and treatment. While almost a third say they take each day as it comes because they are fearful of the cancer returning. And it isn't just those who are diagnosed with cancer who it affects. Almost four in 10 said that having a friend or relative diagnosed with cancer made them more aware of their own mortality.