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Saturday 20 January 2018

Cancer patients are warned against being 'too positive'

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

Cancer patients who strive too hard to be "positive" can end up feeling miserable, Irish psychologists warn.

"Facing up to uncertainty and insecurity takes courage and may be painful but can be a more helpful way to manage the ups and downs of a cancer diagnosis," according to the new guide from the Psychological Society of Ireland.

Dr Paul D'Alton, head of the department of psycho-oncology at St Vincent's hospital in Dublin, said the tips should be of use to family members, friends or work colleagues who try to help someone with cancer.

"We've summarised it in 10 tips to offer help at this really challenging time, probably one of the most difficult times in any individual's life.

"Perhaps the two most important things to remember are that emotions will not follow in neat stages and that over-emphasising being positive can be an additional burden to the person diagnosed with cancer."

Other tips include:

• Don't be afraid to say: "I don't know what to say." Learn to tolerate your own emotional discomfort. Learn to just listen.

• Don't expect emotions to progress along in neat stages. This experience will unfold as a process and there will be many ups and downs where their needs change on a day-to-day (or sometimes hour-to-hour) basis.

• Avoid giving advice. This can be unhelpful and make people feel they should be "doing a better job" at coping than they are. Advising people to keep positive and battle on is not helpful for everyone.

• Try not to personalise. If you're experiencing conflict, try and remember that your partner or friend or family member may be angry at the situation and not at you personally. We tend to take our frustration out on our nearest and dearest.

• Eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. By taking care of yourself you are in a much better position to care for others.

• Don't be afraid to ask for help, or say 'no' when you need to.

• Allow yourself permission to be who you are in this moment.

• Try to focus on today, this moment not yesterday or the future.

The tips coincide with the Irish Cancer Society's Daffodil Day on Friday next.

"With there being over 200 different types of cancer and one in three of us being affected during our lifetime, we are aiming to heighten the awareness of cancer and the importance of how best to help and support someone who has been given a cancer diagnosis," Dr D'Alton added.

The Irish Cancer Society's Donal Buggy welcomed this advice and said that "many people find it difficult to talk to someone who has cancer or to know how to give support. The most important thing to remember is you are not alone".

The National Cancer Helpline is 1800 200 700.

Irish Independent

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