Fri | Dec 4, 2020

Caring for cancer patients: Advice from a survivor

Published:Saturday | October 31, 2020 | 12:11 AM

“When caring for people with cancer, families and loved ones need to be careful and deliberate with their support, especially in a time like this,” advises survivor, Kamala McWhinney.

In a #PowerofPink breast cancer social media discussion with JN Bank recently, McWhinney explained that some persons don’t understand how important it is not to make a prognosis for people with cancer.

“That’s one of the things that shocked me throughout my journey. People wanted me to respond in a particular way. People wanted me to be happy and joyful and not own the other parts of the journey. People wanted information; people wanted to make recommendations and to tell me: ‘Go a herbalist; nuh bother cut off yuh breast’,” she chuckled.

Get information from reputable sources

Similarly, gynaecologist Dr Michael Abrahams, who also participated in a JN Bank#PowerofPinksocial media discussion, stated that, if someone has cancer of any kind, it is very important for them to get their information from reputable sources.

“The Internet is a great source of information, but unfortunately it’s also a great place to get misinformation, conspiracy theories and nonsense from people who think they know a lot but really don’t know that much,” he disclosed.

He added that it is pertinent that cancer patients discuss with their physician whatever information they receive.

He also explained that, “Some people oversimplify cancer management. For example, someone may say a particular herb is good for cancer and that really doesn’t make sense, because there are many different types of cancers, not only one. And these different types of cancer behave and are treated in different ways.”

“Some cancers are aggressive, some are slow-growing. Some types will occur as one lump while some will have many lumps and they are treated in very different ways, depending on the type and stage they are in,” he informed.


An associate clinical psychologist, McWhinney also pointed out that the comments and recommendations made by people actually taught her a lot about human nature.

“It was important for me to help some people to understand that I don’t even know if this thing has spread in my body; I don’t know the prognosis,” she declared, explaining that, at that point in the journey, she didn’t have much information and so it felt especially difficult and unfair to have to also deal with other people’s expectations of her and their needs.

She added that the situation was a teachable moment for her. However, the relationships with these persons are still very much intact.

McWhinney provided some tips for persons who have loved ones fighting cancer:

• Give them space: Generally, when people are going through a rough time, it’s important to give them the space to manage all their feelings.

• Don’t control how they feel: People should not try to control how other persons feel, as it’s not helpful. Something as complex as breast cancer, when you don’t know the facts, it is important to just allow the persons who are going through it to tell you, “Today is a good day,” or “Today mi nuh waah talk to nobody,” and simply offer understanding and empathy as best as you can. The breast cancer survivor added that it is really not fair for people, whether going through grief because of a loss of loved ones or any kind of other crisis, to be demanded, “to show up the way you want them to,” in order to make persons feel good about the fact that they are making a difference in their lives.

• Do not lead with your needs: It is important that persons do not project their needs, feelings and thoughts, as somebody on the outside.

• Allow the person to lead: Finally, supporters should instead be present and seek to understand how they can help. Ask the person, “What can I do for you today?” If the person says “Nothing”, then it’s nothing. If the person needs space, then give them space. “It is really important to let the person lead in terms of what they need,” McWhinney advised.