This post is the ninth in a series of posts exploring the 9 key factors that Dr Kelly Turner PhD found were present in the recoveries from advanced cancer that she studied in her book Radical Remission. Those 9 factors were:
- Radically changing your diet (Part 1 here and Part 2 here)
- Taking control of your health (here)
- Following your intuition (here)
- Using herbs and supplements (here)
- Releasing suppressed emotions (here)
- Increasing positive emotions (here)
- Embracing social support (here)
- Deepening your spiritual connection (here)
- Having strong reasons for living (here).
Even though many of us find it hard to accept social support, it can help us live longer. True. And it can also help us heal. In this post, we will explore the different types of social support that people healing from cancer have found beneficial and why you should grab it with both hands if this is your journey. To find out more about the book Radical Remission, go to the post “Being Radical – Introduction” here.
Let me guess something about you.
You love to feel LOVED!
We all do! It’s part of being human.
And when we feel loved, we feel good. And when we feel good, our bodies start producing those healing hormones you read about in my last Being Radical post (here).
So it makes sense that social support, particularly the feeling of love, would also affect the way that people heal.
But don’t take my word for it. Radical Remission discusses studies done with cancer patients which demonstrated that those with social support even reduced their risk of dying from cancer by 70 per cent! And they didn’t have to be married or have children to benefit. The social support could have come from anywhere.
Radical Remission also refers to studies that have shown that people “with more social connections live significantly longer than people with fewer social connections, and they also have lower cancer rates.”
One of the best examples of the effect of social support is (or was) the Pennsylvanian town of Roseto. It features predominantly in two recent works on Mind-Body Medicine: Lissa Rankin MD’s book Mind Over Medicine and Shannon Harvey’s documentary The Connection.
Roseto was a town like any other in the United States except that between 1954 and 1961, it had no incidence of heart disease. The people of Roseto smoked, drank wine and fatty meat dishes. But the thing that distinguished them was the sense of community and social support. Everybody lived like each other and they spent their evenings, after hard days’ labour, together. Everyone was respected and no one competed for what the other had. As their children left home and the town became more “Americanised” heart disease started to creep in.
The experience of low or negligible heart disease in Roseto has come to be known as the Roseto effect. And what it suggests is that when people feel supported and loved, their health benefits. But we already know that don’t we?
However, you might be a person who finds it hard to accept help from others. Do you try to do everything for yourself? Do you feel guilty watching others running around after you?
Why is that? I wonder.
Actually I have a fair idea. Because that’s what I was like. If anyone offered me help, of any kind, I would say thank you but no thank you. I’m FINE!
Until I wasn’t.
What do we mean by social support?
Social support comes in all types of packages and sizes. It can be someone dropping off some frozen meals or it can be having your name put on a prayer list. Different people will do different things, depending on their relationship with you, their beliefs and the time they have available.
I was completely blown away by the very small but thoughtful gifts of soap, motivational books and other trinkets that made their way to me from people I had never met. Many were friends of my mother’s from her German class or her church.
So there is physical support – the type you really need when you are sick. Those who come and prepare meals, do dishes, hang out washing, fold washing. Basically picking up the slack that your incapacitation creates. These people are angels and make your day to day life just that little bit easier. And make it easier too for a spouse or partner (if you have one) who is still working full time, running the household and trying to care for you as best they can.
And then there is the emotional and spiritual support. The phone call that just lets you know that someone is thinking of you, even if they are a long way away. They are sending you love. As are the people who put your name down on the list for prayers and healing. I don’t know just how many prayer lists I made it on to last year but I know I was on the list at my mother’s church, the list for the worldwide Tibetan Buddhist Community through which I study meditation, and numerous informal lists.
Whether prayer works or not, what is important is that it makes the beneficiary feel loved. Knowing that there are all those people out there devoting just a short time in their busy day to thinking about you and wishing you well.
Personally, I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the ability to create inherently good and loving energy with our thoughts, just as we can create negative energy. We saw in the last Radical Remission post, through the video exercise, how our thoughts can change the sensations in our bodies. And since our bodies are just a mass of swirling atoms, they touch and can affect the other swirling atoms around us.
I’ve used this quote of the Buddha’s exhaustively but he said “We are what we think. With our thoughts we make the world. Everything arises with our thoughts.”
Anyway, enough of that. Another form of social support is physical touch. I spoke about hugs in Being Radical – Increasing Positive Emotions so I won’t explore that again. But there are other touch based therapies that can be very soothing. Personally, I love a good massage and have had (and in the past given) Reiki, a form of hands-on energy healing. Just the experience of loving touch can be enough to relax the body and promote healing. And Radical Remission explores other techniques that you might find enjoyable.
Accepting the support
The real clincher for many people is to be able to accept the social support, or even WORSE, ask for it. When first diagnosed with a life-threatening condition like cancer, the outpouring of concern and love for you can be a bit overwhelming. You might even feel as if you are experiencing your own funeral as people you haven’t heard from for ages start popping up with offers of help or simply company.
And as it turns out, everyone wants to help! And they want to visit!
Which is nice of them. But …
You just want to hide. You feel miserable and tired and the last thing you want is people hanging around.
It’s a balancing act.
It’s important to let people support you. You won’t always want it and if you are tired, and you need your sleep for healing, then you need to be clear about that. Really clear. People love to help and it’s actually a big act of self-love to let them. Except when it will harm you.
Most of the resistance to help and support comes from a sense of not being worthy or being undeserving. But as I heard Anita Moorjani, the survivor of late stage lymphoma and an extraordinary near-death experience, say recently “You are loved just because you exist.” Nothing more. Nothing less. The simple fact that you are alive qualifies you to be deserving of support.
And to ask for it when you need it. Now that’s a challenge. Last year when just taking a load of washing to the line knocked me out before I had even hung it out, I had to ask for help. It was quite simple. I had no choice. And when people offered it, I just said yes. I arranged for people to come over on different days and worked out what needed to be done when they got here. Sometimes it was cooking, sometimes it was taking me to a medical appointment. They seemed happy and it didn’t hurt quite as much as I thought it would. In fact it was a relief.
There are times when we simply can’t do things alone. And nor should we have to. We are all interdependent, whether we like it or not. Healing is a team effort. And since I’ve been well again, I’ve been able to “pay it forward.”
I just love this quote from the story at the end of the chapter on social support in Radical Remission:
One of the biggest lessons from being sick is the power of reciprocity. Reciprocity is allowing for the flow of giving and receiving. It’s giving, not manipulating or bribing or coercing. And it’s receiving, not taking or tricking … And we’re so used to giving because that’s a power play – it makes you feel good, like you’re “one up” and all that. But, you can’t give if someone won’t receive. That was my big lesson: I had to allow for that flow. I learned that it was a privilege for people to give, and it was also a privilege for me to receive.
And so on that note, if you are struggling, remember there is plenty of help out there. You don’t have to do this alone. Radical Remission speaks of the benefits of support groups and other communities, if you don’t have family support or a group of friends available, or even if you do. Support will find you if you just put up your hand and say “Help.” So say it!
It may not feel like it but it’s just another way you can take control of your health.
Thanks for dropping by. There will be no post next week as I will be on a meditation teacher training course at the Gawler Foundation.
Until next time, be happy. Be well. Just BE.
And so be it.