Navigating Support Roles and Responsibilities: A Guide for Romantic Partners and the Patient’s Family

When a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness, it is not just the patient who faces the challenges. The impact is felt deeply by their family members, including romantic partners, who often become vital sources of support during this difficult time. While the patient’s family plays a significant role in their well-being, it is crucial to establish clear communication and negotiate support roles and responsibilities to ensure a cohesive and harmonious support system.

In this article, we will explore effective strategies for navigating the dynamics between romantic partners and the patient’s family within the context of the b-present Foundation’s mission to empower and support young adults facing cancer.


Recognizing the importance of all support systems

When a loved one falls ill, their romantic partner naturally becomes an anchor of support. However, it is essential to acknowledge the value that the patient’s family brings to the table. The patient’s family members often possess a unique understanding of their loved one’s needs, medical history, and preferences. By recognizing and appreciating the role of the patient’s family, a stronger and more comprehensive support network can be established.

Identifying areas of expertise and responsibilities

Each person involved in the support system brings their own strengths and areas of expertise. By recognizing and utilizing these strengths, tasks, and responsibilities can be distributed effectively. For instance, the patient’s family members might have experience with medical appointments, while the romantic partner can provide emotional support and assist with daily activities. Collaboratively determining each person’s role ensures the patient’s needs are continuously met.

Open and honest communication

Clear and open communication forms the foundation for navigating the roles and responsibilities of romantic partners and the patient’s family. It is essential for all parties involved to express their needs, concerns, and expectations openly while also being receptive to the perspectives of others. Establishing regular check-ins or family meetings can create a space for dialogue, ensuring everyone’s voice is heard and understood.

Age, relationship and cultural considerations

Age, relationship, and cultural considerations can significantly impact the dynamics of support roles within the context of a serious illness. These factors influence how individuals perceive and approach their roles, affecting the overall support system.

How age and culture can impact support

In multicultural families, diverse beliefs and traditions may influence caregiving practices and communication styles. Religious beliefs and practices may influence how end-of-life care is approached, and different cultures may have distinct communication styles, including direct and indirect communication or varying levels of emotional expression. In some cultures, expressing emotions openly may be encouraged, while in others, it might be considered more private.

Cultural beliefs about medical treatments, alternative therapies, and spiritual practices can also vary significantly. Some cultures may value traditional medicine, while others may prefer holistic approaches.

Cultural norms regarding family hierarchies can influence decision-making within the support system. In some cultures, the eldest family member’s opinion carries more weight, while in others, decisions may be made collectively. Older family members may hold traditional beliefs about caregiving, while younger partners may have different expectations due to evolving societal norms. Bridging these generational gaps through open communication and mutual understanding is crucial in building a unified support network.

How relationships can impact support

Relationship dynamics also influence how support roles are negotiated. Established long-term partners may have a deeper understanding of each other’s needs and communication styles, while newer relationships may face challenges in navigating the complexities of caregiving. Striking a balance between emotional support and practical assistance is vital in maintaining a healthy relationship while caring for a loved one with a serious illness.

Understanding the impact of age, relationship, and cultural considerations helps foster empathy and compassion among all parties involved. It encourages patience and a willingness to adapt to different perspectives and approaches to caregiving. Embracing diversity and inclusivity within the support system not only enhances the patient’s well-being but also strengthens the bonds between romantic partners and the patient’s family. By acknowledging and addressing these factors, individuals can collaboratively create a support network that is truly comprehensive and beneficial for all involved.


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Respecting boundaries and privacy

During times of illness, personal boundaries and privacy become even more crucial. Both the patient’s family and their romantic partner may struggle to balance their love and concern for the patient with respecting their right to confidentiality, but they need to respect each other’s boundaries and understand that different individuals have varying levels of comfort when it comes to sharing personal information or participating in caregiving tasks. These dilemmas may lead to conflicting opinions and heightened emotions, requiring open dialogue and mutual understanding to find common ground. Respecting privacy fosters trust and promotes healthy relationships within the support system.

Making medical decisions

Medical decisions are a crucial aspect of navigating the support roles and responsibilities within the context of a serious illness. When it comes to medical decisions, the patient’s family and romantic partner often find themselves facing common areas of concern. Deciding on treatment options, considering medical procedures, and managing end-of-life care are just some of the challenging decisions that must be made collectively. It is essential for both parties to engage in open and honest conversations, discussing the patient’s wishes, values, and preferences, to arrive at informed decisions that align with the patient’s best interests. 

Seeking external support

Negotiating roles and responsibilities can sometimes be challenging, and seeking external support can be highly beneficial. Find resources such as support groups, counseling services, and educational materials for both patients and their loved ones. Health professionals can play a pivotal role by providing medical expertise and guidance, helping to demystify complex medical information, and offering valuable insights to support the decision-making process. Ultimately, navigating medical decisions requires a shared commitment to the patient’s well-being, where all involved parties contribute their perspectives and expertise to ensure the most compassionate and effective care.

Actionable steps to navigate support roles and responsibilities effectively

  • Create a Support Plan: Work together as a team, including the patient, romantic partner, and family members, to create a support plan outlining each person’s roles and responsibilities. Having a clear plan in place helps ensure that everyone knows what is expected of them and reduces the chances of misunderstandings.


  • Establish Regular Check-ins: Schedule regular check-ins or family meetings to discuss how the patient is doing, any changes in their needs, and how the support network can be adjusted accordingly. These meetings can also serve as a platform for open communication and addressing any concerns.


  • Utilize Technology: In today’s digital age, technology can be a powerful tool for staying connected and coordinating care. Consider using shared calendars or support apps like b-there to facilitate communication and task management within the support system.


  • Practice Active Listening: Encourage active listening. Allow each person to express their thoughts and feelings without interruption. This fosters understanding and empathy among all members of the support network.


  • Set Boundaries and Respect Privacy: Discuss and establish boundaries to ensure that everyone’s privacy is respected. Understand that different individuals may have varying comfort levels regarding sharing personal information or participating in caregiving tasks.


  • Divide Tasks According to Strengths: Identify each individual’s strengths and expertise, and assign tasks accordingly. For instance, family members with medical knowledge can handle appointments and medical information, while the romantic partner focuses on emotional support.


  • Encourage Self-Care: Remind everyone involved to prioritize their own well-being and engage in self-care activities regularly. Supporting a loved one with a serious illness can be emotionally and physically demanding, so taking care of oneself is crucial.


  • Learn about the Illness: Take the time to educate yourself about the patient’s condition and treatment options. Being informed empowers you to ask relevant questions during medical appointments and participate more actively in the patient’s care.


  • Be Flexible and Adaptable: Understand that the patient’s needs and circumstances may change over time. Be flexible and willing to adjust roles and responsibilities as needed to provide the best support possible.


  • Practice Gratitude and Appreciation: Express gratitude and appreciation to each other for the support provided. Celebrate small victories and moments of joy amidst the challenges of caregiving.


  • Communicate with Healthcare Professionals: Maintain open communication with the patient’s healthcare team. Regularly update them on the patient’s progress and involve them in important decision-making processes.


  • Take Breaks and Respite: If possible, arrange for respite care to give each member of the support system the opportunity to take breaks and recharge. Taking time off can help prevent burnout and maintain overall well-being.

In conclusion

Navigating the support roles and responsibilities between romantic partners and the patient’s family requires open communication, understanding, and a collaborative mindset. By recognizing and respecting each other’s strengths, setting boundaries, and seeking external support when needed, a cohesive and supportive network can be created for the benefit of the patient. 

Together, romantic partners and the patient’s family can form a strong alliance, enhancing the patient’s quality of life and fostering resilience during challenging times.

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Supporting a Co-worker with a Cancer Diagnosis: Expert Tips and Guidance

A cancer diagnosis can significantly impact a young adult’s work life. The physical and emotional toll of treatment can make it difficult to focus on work tasks, and the uncertainty of the disease can make it challenging to plan for the future. Supporting your co-worker through this challenging time is critical.

For a young adult who has been diagnosed with cancer, it can be difficult to balance the demands of work with the demands of treatment and recovery. They may need to take time off for doctor’s appointments, treatments, or surgery and may experience side effects such as fatigue, nausea, or pain that can make working difficult. They may also struggle with emotional and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and fear.


Tips for supporting a co-worker

As a co-worker, it’s important to be understanding and supportive of a colleague diagnosed with cancer. Here are some helpful tips for how to support a co-worker diagnosed with cancer:

  • Be understanding of their need to take time off for treatments and appointments.
  • Offer to help with tasks or projects if they need to take a leave of absence.
  • Check-in with them regularly to see how they are doing and offer your support.
  • Remember that they may be dealing with emotional stress and be sensitive to their feelings.
  • Offer to help with transportation, meals, or other needs they may have.
  • Please respect their privacy and do not share information about their diagnosis or treatment without their permission.
  • Be patient and understanding if they need to take time off for doctor’s appointments, treatments, or surgery.



What to avoid when supporting a co-worker

On the other hand, here are some things to avoid when supporting a co-worker diagnosed with cancer:

  • Don’t ask them invasive or personal questions about their diagnosis or treatment
  • Don’t treat them differently because of their cancer diagnosis.
  • Don’t share information about their diagnosis or treatment without their permission
  • Don’t make assumptions about their ability to work or perform their job duties
  • Don’t pressure them to talk about their diagnosis or treatment if they don’t want to

Most importantly, don’t avoid them. Returning to the workplace is already hard enough without colleagues making it feel even more awkward and uncomfortable. If you haven’t seen them in a while, it is normal not to know what to say. Want to get off to a great start? Try a friendly, “It’s good to have you back. How’s it going so far?” and hold space for their reply.

Everyone’s experience with cancer is different, so be sensitive to your co-worker’s unique needs and feelings. By being understanding and supportive, you can help your co-worker navigate this difficult time and maintain a sense of normalcy in their work life.

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Finding Normalcy: The Vital Role it Plays after a Cancer Diagnosis

Normalcy refers to the state of being normal, usual, typical, or expected. It is often sought after by adolescents and young adults (AYAs) diagnosed with cancer because a diagnosis can greatly disrupt their day-to-day lives and cause significant stress and anxiety.

For adolescents and young adults, normalcy is vital because it provides a sense of stability and predictability in their lives. It helps them feel like they are still in control of their lives and can continue to engage in activities and experiences that are meaningful to them. Normalcy can be particularly critical for young people still developing their sense of identity and independence. Maintaining important relationships and knowing they have loved ones in their corner helps smooth the transition to survivorship and life beyond cancer.


How to provide normalcy

Providing normalcy for an adolescent or young adult who has been diagnosed with cancer can include several things:

Preserving routines that are important to them. This could be something as simple as that Friday pizza and movie hangout that you used to do, or eating a favorite meal (have it delivered if they can’t go out), or a favorite game night.

Allow them to stay engaged in activities and hobbies they enjoy. This could include sports, music, art, or other extracurricular activities. Collaborate with their care team to understand and address any limitations. This will help ensure inclusion in desired activities and enable tailored solutions that either bring the activities directly to them or provide the necessary assistance for participation.

Encouraging them to maintain their relationships with friends and family members. This can be done through regular phone calls, video chats, or visits. Be sure they have the necessary tools to stay connected.

Helping them to stay on track with their education or career plans. This could include working with school administrators or employers to make accommodations for treatments or absences.

Helping them to maintain a sense of independence and autonomy by holding space for them to make decisions about their care and treatment and respecting their choices.

Helping them to find ways to continue to be engaged in their community, for example, by volunteering or participating in support groups for young adults with cancer.

Helping them find ways to cope with the emotional and psychological challenges of a cancer diagnosis, for example, through counseling or support groups.


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It is important to remember that every adolescent and young adult will have different needs and preferences when it comes to maintaining normalcy in their lives after a cancer diagnosis. Please be respectful of their wishes and tailor the support accordingly. Needs will change over time, so continue to ask what activities are important to them.

Providing a sense of normalcy for an adolescent or young adult diagnosed with cancer will allow them to maintain a sense of control over their lives, even in the face of a challenging illness. It can help them feel less isolated and alone and provide them with a sense of hope and optimism for the future.

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Survivorship: Why Your Continued Support Matters

Life after cancer, often called survivorship, is a unique experience filled with challenges and rewards. It encompasses the period after cancer treatment, during which individuals may still grapple with the lingering physical, emotional, and psychological effects of the disease.


Misconceptions: The Reality of Post-Treatment

It is crucial to dispel the misconception that survivorship implies the end of the cancer experience and a seamless return to one’s pre-diagnosis life. In reality, many survivors grapple with enduring physical, emotional, and psychological repercussions long after treatment concludes. They may continue to face challenges such as fatigue, pain, and emotional distress and may need ongoing medical follow-up and support.

Adjusting to the “New Normal”

Unfortunately, resuming their previous routines and seamlessly integrating back into their everyday lives is unattainable for countless survivors. The experience can impact their lives long-term, and they may need time to adjust to their “new normal.”

Tips for Meaningful Support: How You Can Make a Difference

If you’re a friend, family member, or co-worker, here are some valuable tips to provide meaningful support to someone who has completed cancer treatment:

  1. Listen and Validate: Listen to them attentively and validate their feelings without passing judgment.
  2. Explore Resources: Help them explore available resources and support networks, such as cancer support groups, counseling services, and specialized rehabilitation programs.
  3. Encourage Follow-Up: Encourage regular follow-up appointments with their healthcare team as they navigate life after cancer.
  4. Practice Patience: Practice patience and understanding when they need time off for follow-up appointments or to manage lingering side effects.
  5. Respect Privacy: Respect their privacy and refrain from sharing information about their diagnosis or treatment without their explicit permission.
  6. Be Supportive: Remember that adjusting to life after cancer takes time, so be patient and supportive as they navigate this new phase.

Behaviors to Avoid: Promoting a Supportive Environment

Here are some certain behaviors to avoid when supporting someone who has completed cancer treatment:

  1. Avoid Assumptions: Avoid assuming that their cancer experience is over or expecting them to revert to their pre-diagnosis life effortlessly.
  2. Respect Boundaries: Refrain from pressuring them to discuss their cancer experience if they are not ready or willing.
  3. Work Consideration: Do not make assumptions about their ability to work or perform their usual duties.
  4. Equal Treatment: Treat them with the same respect and consideration as before their cancer diagnosis, avoiding any differential treatment.
  5. Maintain Confidentiality: Never disclose information about their diagnosis or treatment without obtaining their explicit consent.

Empowering Life Beyond Cancer: Providing Ongoing Support

Life after cancer presents a distinctive journey that necessitates ongoing support and empathy. It is vital to acknowledge and validate the enduring physical, emotional, and psychological effects that individuals, particularly young adults, may face post-treatment. By providing them with the necessary support and resources, we can empower them to navigate this new chapter in their lives.

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From Struggle to Strength: The Power of Resilience for Young Adults with Cancer

Resilience refers to the ability to adapt and bounce back from difficult experiences, and it is an important aspect of the adolescent and young adult cancer experience. Adolescents and young adults diagnosed with cancer may face a wide range of challenges, including physical changes, emotional distress, and disruptions to their daily lives. Resilience can help them navigate these challenges and build the skills and resources they need to cope with the residual effects of the disease.


Factors that contribute to resilience

Several factors contribute to resilience in the context of cancer. These include a positive outlook, strong social support, and access to resources and information. Additionally, having a sense of control over one’s life and being able to find meaning in the cancer experience can also contribute to resilience.

Resilience can be especially important for adolescents and young adults because they are still developing their sense of identity and independence. A cancer diagnosis can disrupt these developmental processes and make it difficult for them to navigate their new reality. Resilience can help them to maintain a sense of control over their lives, even in the face of a challenging illness.

How to increase resilience

There are several steps that can be taken to increase resilience in the context of the adolescent and young adult cancer experience. These include:

  • Building a strong support network: Surrounding oneself with a supportive group of friends, family members, and healthcare professionals can provide a sense of connection and belonging, which can help to increase resilience.
  • Finding meaning in the cancer experience: Reflecting on the cancer experience and finding meaning in it can help to make sense of the challenges and provide a sense of purpose.
  • Practicing self-care: Engaging in activities that promote physical and emotional well-being, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and mindfulness, can help to increase resilience.
  • Seeking professional help: Talking to a counselor, therapist, or other mental health professional can provide a safe space to process emotions and develop coping strategies.
  • Staying informed: Staying informed about cancer, treatment options, and available resources can help to increase a sense of control and empower adolescents and young adults to make informed decisions about their care.

Resilience is a process, and it will look different for every person. It is a skill that can be learned and practiced and will take time to develop. It is crucial to have patience and understanding with oneself and the adolescents and young adults in our lives going through this process.


In conclusion, resilience is essential to the adolescent and young adult cancer experience. It can help adolescents and young adults to navigate the challenges of cancer and build the skills and resources they need to cope with the long-term effects of the disease. By building a strong support network, finding meaning in the cancer experience, practicing self-care, seeking professional help, and staying informed, we can increase our resilience and help the adolescents and young adults in our lives to do the same.

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Survivors Guilt: What Is It and Who Feels It?

Survivor’s guilt is a complex psychological phenomenon that can arise in individuals who have survived traumatic events, such as cancer. It encompasses a range of emotions, including guilt, shame, and self-blame, experienced by those who have come through a harrowing ordeal while others did not.


The Unique Challenges Faced by Cancer Survivors

Cancer survivors often find themselves grappling with survivor’s guilt in various ways. They may feel an overwhelming sense of guilt for receiving treatment and ultimately surviving, while others who had the same diagnosis were not as fortunate. Moreover, they may experience guilt for moving forward with their lives while witnessing fellow patients still dealing with their illness. They may also feel guilty for being a burden on their family and children, that continues even though they have survived. These feelings of guilt can lead to a profound sense of isolation, depression, and anxiety.

The Ripple Effect: Survivor’s Guilt in Support Community Members

It’s important to recognize that survivor’s guilt is not exclusive to cancer patients. Even individuals who support cancer survivors, such as their family and friends, can also experience this guilt. They may find themselves burdened by guilt for not having faced the same struggles as the survivor or for not being able to fully comprehend and support them. They may also feel guilty that their loved one survived while other patients they met during the experience have not.

Recognizing the Signs: Identifying Survivor’s Guilt

Identifying the signs of survivor’s guilt can be challenging, as they may manifest differently in each individual. However, there are certain common indicators to watch out for. These include persistent feelings of guilt or shame, a sense of isolation from others, depression, and anxiety.

Seeking Support: Coping Strategies for Survivor’s Guilt

Coping with survivor’s guilt requires seeking support from reliable sources such as friends, family, or a therapist. Opening up about your feelings and experiences can help you process and gain a better understanding of them. It is crucial to prioritize self-care and engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. Remember, it is normal to experience a range of emotions and feelings about your survival, and it is vital to grant yourself the time and space needed to navigate through them.

Moving Forward Together

It is essential to understand that survivor’s guilt is a natural response to trauma and you are not alone in your feelings of guilt. Seeking the support of loved ones, practicing self care, and processing your feelings with the help of a professional counselor or therapist are all effective strategies to help work through these feelings and move forward.

By acknowledging and understanding survivor’s guilt, we can provide the necessary support and resources to help survivors and their support networks cope with the aftermath. Remember, you are not alone, and with the right tools and assistance, it is possible to move toward a brighter future.

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Oncology Nurses: The Unsung Heroes in Cancer Care

In the realm of cancer care, a group of individuals provides unwavering support, compassionate care, and a ray of hope to patients and their families during their most challenging moments. They are the oncology nurses—the unsung heroes who tirelessly work behind the scenes, dedicating their lives to improving the lives of others. During the month dedicated to honoring these remarkable individuals, the b-present Foundation invites you to join us in celebrating Oncology Nurses Month and recognizing the invaluable contributions of these extraordinary healthcare professionals.


The Role of Oncology Nurses

Oncology nurses play a vital role in the comprehensive care of cancer patients. They are often the first point of contact for patients, and their role extends far beyond administering medication or monitoring vital signs. These compassionate individuals provide emotional support, educate patients and their families about treatment options and side effects, assist with pain management, and facilitate communication between patients, families, and the broader healthcare team.

The Backbone of Cancer Care

Nurses are the backbone of cancer care, working diligently to ensure patients receive the highest level of care and comfort throughout their cancer experience. They possess a unique blend of medical expertise, empathy, and resilience, allowing them to navigate cancer patients’ physical, emotional, and psychological challenges. Whether administering chemotherapy, assisting in radiation therapy, or providing end-of-life care, oncology nurses consistently demonstrate exceptional professionalism and unwavering dedication.


oncology nurses

Advocates for Patients and Families

Beyond their clinical responsibilities, oncology nurses also serve as advocates for patients and their families. They are a voice of reassurance, compassionately addressing concerns and providing guidance throughout treatment. Oncology nurses understand that effective communication and shared decision-making are crucial in empowering patients to actively participate in their care. By fostering strong relationships built on trust and empathy, they ensure that patients feel heard and supported every step of the way.

Continual Learning and Professional Development

Nursing is a constantly evolving field, with advancements in treatment options, technology, and research occurring at a rapid pace. Oncology nurses recognize the importance of staying up-to-date with the latest developments and are committed to ongoing learning and professional development. They attend conferences, engage in research initiatives, and participate in specialized training programs to enhance their knowledge and skills. This dedication allows them to provide the highest standard of care to their patients and contribute to advancing cancer treatment.

The Emotional Toll and Self-Care

Caring for cancer patients can take an emotional toll on nurses. Witnessing the physical and emotional struggles that patients endure can be challenging and heartbreaking. However, these compassionate professionals understand the importance of self-care and support systems to maintain their own well-being. Hospitals and healthcare organizations have an important role in providing resources and fostering a supportive environment that promotes the mental and emotional well-being of oncology nurses.

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Expressing Our Gratitude

During Oncology Nurses Month, it is essential to recognize and express our deepest gratitude to the remarkable oncology nurses who provide unwavering care and support to cancer patients and their families. Their commitment, resilience, and compassion inspire hope and make a profound impact on the lives of those they serve. Whether through a simple thank-you note, a heartfelt gesture, or participating in events that honor their invaluable contributions, join us in showing our appreciation for these unsung heroes and their dedication.

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Mental Health for Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancer: How to Support Them

Cancer is a devastating disease that affects not only the individual diagnosed but also their loved ones and support community. Adolescents and young adults (AYAs) with cancer face unique challenges, including the physical and emotional toll of treatment, the possibility of long-term health complications, and the impact on their education and career aspirations. One aspect often overlooked is the importance of mental health for these individuals.


Mental health is crucial for overall well-being and can significantly impact the quality of life for adolescents and young adults with cancer. They may experience a range of emotions, including fear, anxiety, depression, and stress. The physical symptoms of cancer and the side effects of treatment can exacerbate these emotions. It is important to recognize that mental health struggles are common and normal for individuals in this situation and to provide them with support and resources.

How to provide support

One way to support the mental health of adolescents and young adults with cancer is to provide them with access to professional counseling and therapy. This can be critical for those who are struggling to cope with their diagnosis and treatment. It can also be helpful for family members and friends to seek support for themselves, as caring for a loved one with cancer can be emotionally taxing.

Another way to support the mental health of adolescents and young adults with cancer is to provide them with opportunities for socialization and connection. Being around friends and loved ones can provide a sense of normalcy and remind them that they are not alone in their struggles. It can also be helpful to connect them with support groups of individuals who have gone through similar experiences.

Allow them a sense of control

It is also essential for adolescents and young adults with cancer to have a sense of control and autonomy over their treatment and care, which may include allowing them to be involved in decision-making regarding their treatment and providing them with information and resources to make informed decisions.

Take care of yourself too

Remember: You can’t be a good supporter if you’re running on empty. Balance your own needs with the needs of your friend. Whether that’s ensuring you schedule in your own self-care, start therapy, etc., think about what you need in order to feel like you can support your friend without sacrificing your own well-being


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In summary, mental health is crucial for overall well-being, especially for adolescents and young adults with cancer. Recognize that mental health struggles are common and normal for individuals in this situation and provide them with access to professional counseling, opportunities for socialization and connection, and a sense of control over their treatment and care. By providing support and resources, we can help these individuals navigate their cancer journey with as much resilience and grace as possible.

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Empathy and Compassion: Building a Stronger Support Community

Empathy and compassion are crucial for adolescents and young adults with cancer and their support community. Cancer can be a difficult and trying experience, and it can be easy for misunderstandings and hurt feelings to arise. However, empathy and compassion can help to build understanding and support during this challenging time.


What’s the difference?

Sympathy is defined as “the feeling that you care about and are sorry about someone else’s trouble, grief, misfortune, etc.” Being sympathetic is a kind gesture and can create some feeling of support, but empathy is a much better way to connect with someone going through hard times.

Empathy is defined as “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions.” In other words, you can share someone else’s feelings. You don’t only hear their words; you feel them.

With sympathy, supporters tend to feel sorry for the person struggling, creating feelings of pity. These feelings of pity or messages like “you poor thing” are unhelpful and can make the person who needs support feel like nobody understands them, leading to feelings of isolation. By swapping out sympathy for empathy, supporters can hear their loved one’s perspective more clearly, leading to more helpful support. Empathy connects people and creates a space for mutual understanding and genuine compassion.



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How empathy and compassion helps AYAs

Empathy and compassion can provide a sense of understanding and validation for adolescents and young adults with cancer. They may feel isolated and alone in their experience, and empathy and compassion can help them to feel heard and understood. Additionally, it can help to build trust and open up lines of communication, which can be especially important during this difficult time.

Empathy and compassion can also be important for the support community of adolescents and young adults with cancer. They may have their own struggles and frustrations and may struggle with feelings of helplessness or anger. Empathy and compassion can help them understand the experience of the young person with cancer and provide a sense of validation for their feelings.

How to have more empathy and compassion

Empathy and compassion are not innate. They can be learned and improved. Here are some tips to help improve both for the patient and the support community:

  • Listen actively: Give your full attention to the conversation and try understanding the other person’s perspective. This can help to build understanding and trust.
  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness can help you to be more present and aware of your own emotions and the emotions of others.
  • Take a step back: Sometimes, it can be helpful to take a step back and try to understand the situation from a different perspective.
  • Show your support: Showing your support can help to validate the other person’s feelings and provide a sense of understanding.
  • Educate yourself: Educating yourself about cancer, its treatments, and the experience of young people with cancer can help you to understand and empathize with their experience.

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Cancer in High School Series (Part 4): How a High School Can Rally Together to Make a Difference for Classmates

“My school has been so supportive and helpful and I couldn’t be more thankful for that! A friend of mine hosted a swab drive with DKMS and they had a great turnout. I am so grateful for everyone that swabbed [to determine whether they are a stem cell donor match]! The most challenging thing is that nobody, including your closest friends, will ever understand what you’re going through or how you feel but I appreciate the ones that truly try” (McNamara 2017).

There are a few steps you need to take to become the best supporter you can be and contribute to a greater movement at your school to make a positive difference for classmates in your community. Before proceeding with any plans for a specific classmate with cancer, the first and most important step is ensuring that you are honoring their support needs and privacy wishes. Not everyone wants their cancer diagnosis to be public knowledge at school. Always ask first. For more information about how to navigate this difficult time, check out our supporter roadmap.

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Creating a Safe Space

After understanding the classmate’s support and privacy wishes, you can move forward confident that the support you organize aligns with these needs. One of the most important things to create positive change within a school community is providing a safe space for the students to educate themselves through respectful conversation and questions. As noted above, discussing the cancer diagnosis at the discretion of the family and student affected will help the community adjust to the news, become better informed, and become better supporters.

“Establish if and how the family would like information about the student’s diagnosis and treatment to be shared with teachers and the rest of the school community. You might suggest confidentially informing a small team… who will respect the family’s privacy while coordinating care and support for the student and any siblings at the school. It may also be helpful to develop a plan in case students learn about a classmate’s diagnosis from the student or from social media, and need support in managing their reaction” (Cancervic 2018).

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Get your own questions answered

Before you can help contribute to making a difference in your community, you need to ensure you are actively getting your own questions answered and have taken the time to gather your thoughts and fully understand them. As a student, ways you can do personal research and become better adjusted to the news.

  • Making the most of authoritative online resources
  • Talking with trusted friends, family, counselors or advisors about your thoughts and feelings
  • Journaling to write down any questions and how you are feeling


Have a trusted point person who communicates with the family about what they feel is best to create this safe space and to what extent of information they want to be shared. As appropriate, schools can use resources to distribute information and help start conversations that will help the community understand the situation and work together to make a difference.

Means to distribute resources can include:

  • The school website
  • A school newsletter
  • An email or physical letter mailed out to students
  • School presentations hosted by trusted faculty or a clinical nurse consultant
  • Advisory sessions
  • Conversation circles within each classroom

Fundraising and Events

Being present and supportive does not require doing big things to make a big difference. However, there are times when classmates are inspired to work together to host a fundraiser or event that will lift the spirits of the classmate with cancer, help their family, or increase general awareness about a cause they feel passionate about.

“We wanted to do something to help raise awareness to women who could easily let small symptoms go unchecked. The climb took a lot of training and mental strength but it was such an adventure and completely worth it to raise the money for Cancer Research UK.

Coordinate with your school’s leadership team and relevant staff members to host fundraising or awareness events on your campus. It is an excellent way to get the community involved in supporting a cause and, overall, creating positive change. Listed below are potential event ideas your school can participate in. 

Rally Your Support Squad

Support young adults with cancer by throwing a dance party, having a backyard bbq, putting on a volleyball tournament, etc. The possibilities are endless. Whether you want to honor a friend, recognize a survivor, or inspire the community, there are many options, so get creative and be authentic to the person and the cause. Contact us if you are interested in hosting a b-present fundraiser, and we will help you get the party started!

American Cancer Society Relay For Life 

“The Relay For Life movement is dedicated to helping communities attack cancer. Through funds donated, time given, or awareness raised, our communities are teaming up – virtually or in-person – to make a difference. When we rally together in the fight against cancer, we can accomplish anything.”

The Relay For Life event helps “develop leadership and community service by encouraging students to lead and support their peers and teachers and can make a big impact on your campus and your community.”

Support Cancer Awareness Months

There are a variety of national cancer awareness months that improve awareness and support, fund research, and amplify the gaps and work still to be done. Choose a cause you are passionate about and one that feels authentic to your experience and goals. Rally community support by…

  • Hosting a sporting event or another type of event while raising money through concession stands and donations
  • Selling merch with proceeds going directly toward supporting cancer awareness
  • Hosting a 5k run with participants asking friends and family as sponsors to donate per mile or upon completion of the run
  • Start an online or in-person fundraiser

cancer in high school

Planning the Event 

Define the goal

  • Is there a certain patient or family you hope to financially and emotionally support?
  • Is there a certain organization whose mission closely aligns with yours that you would like to organize a fundraiser for?
  • Are you hoping to provide better education to those in your community about a focus topic?

Write out your specific goals so you can clearly communicate them to your audience and those helping you plan the event. Once your campaign focus is identified, you can more clearly visualize what you want the event to accomplish.

Potential cancer awareness campaign focuses include:

  • Providing support for survivors
  • Specific Cancer Awareness
  • Early indicators for cancer


Plan the logistics

  • Setting a date. When do you want this event to take place? How long do you want the campaign to last?
  • Finding a location. Where will this event be most suitable? What place will help you gain the most attraction and participation?
  • Talking with the relevant people. Will this event take place on or off your school’s campus? What administrative work needs to be done to host the event? 

Detail all the logistics while monitoring things that may pose as obstacles when the date for the event comes closer. Make sure to talk to relevant administrators to file any necessary paperwork and to make sure your event follows your school’s guidelines.  


cancer in high school

Find supporters to help plan and run the event

You can’t do everything on your own or even with a very small group. Appoint volunteers and delegate tasks to make sure progress happens on all fronts. Work toward devising plans to advertise your event. You want to reach the largest audience you can to help achieve the goals you set in the beginning. For advertising, consider some of the following options:

  • Reaching out to local businesses within your community to create “goody bags” you can auction off as part of the event
  • Advertising to not only students at your school but other schools in the area: elementary, middle, and high school, depending on the goals of the event


As we continue to find ways we can be the best supporters possible and how to communicate these ways to more people in the community to promote a collective effort, we also need to remember how to give support to supportive classmates and family members during and after treatment. How can we be respectful to those affected by the diagnosis? How can we help support the patient’s close support system while being sensitive to the issue? The next and final segment of the Cancer in High School series will cover how to support the supportive classmate during and after treatment.

Want more?