Filed under: Support
Men with cancer, especially those in the military, might hesitate to tap into helpful resources such as support groups that offer information and encouragement. Battles with cancer often trigger feelings of fear and vulnerability, and men are socialized from childhood to believe that it’s “weak” to show sensitivity. Just because men don’t express their emotions often doesn’t mean they don’t feel them. And it doesn’t mean they should have to face cancer and related challenges alone.
There’s a difference between “dwelling” on your feelings and expressing them. Speaking up often helps men process their emotions and feel less troubled. Sharing doesn’t always feel like the thing to do; the support environment makes a big difference. So what’s an optimal support group? Some men with cancer prefer these 3 qualities:
- being able to connect with others,
- participating in mixed-gender groups, and
- meeting those with mixed diagnoses.
There are other factors to consider too. Some support groups are led by professionals, while others are led by cancer survivors. Some are disease-specific (for example, prostate, lung, and colorectal cancers). Some groups are age- or gender-specific (for example, young adults, men, women, etc.), while others are time-limited, such as a 6-week series for those newly diagnosed.
But there are trade-offs, since these groups support different coping needs. While a mixed-gender group with various diagnoses can help you express yourself more easily, you might also benefit from one that shares specific information and uses a problem-solving approach.
Why do some people with devastating injuries do well in their recoveries and others do not? People often focus on the negative fallout, but there can be positive consequences called post-traumatic growth. Scientists use the term “disability paradox” to refer to how some people with devastating illness or injuries are still able to enjoy a good quality of life. The characteristics of these folks describe someone with a “survivor mentality.” Characteristics include:
- Subscribing meaning to one’s disability or lot in life and sharing this meaning with others.
- Not choosing to live as a victim but instead to feel empowered and motivated to deal with struggles and come out as a victor.
- Being flexible, adaptable, resilient, and rolling with the punches.
Many factors play into developing a survivor mentality. Here are some tips to help:
- Create a strong support system: family, church, community, fellow Warfighters, healthcare providers, etc. A support system should be just that—supportive, encouraging, and a promoter of independence, not an enabler for being or feeling like a victim.
- Maintain a “can do” attitude. See challenges or setbacks as an opportunity to learn and grow. Focus on strengths and abilities, not on limitations. Survivors exhibit the 4 Cs of mental toughness.
- Maintain hope and optimism; focus on the future and move from thinking about the negative aspects of injury/illness to focusing on the positives or possibilities.
September is Suicide Prevention Month — a good time to review how you can possibly help someone in need. Rule number one: Trust your instincts. If you’re worried about someone in particular, don’t ignore it—talk to that person about the concern you feel for him or her. Don’t know how? Be an ACE: “Ask, Care, Escort.”
Ask. If you’re concerned, ask directly and without judgment, “Are you thinking of killing yourself?” If he or she responds “yes,” determine if he or she has a plan by asking, “Have you thought about ways that you might hurt yourself?” (Note: The more specific the plan, the greater the risk).
Care. Next, care for your friend by staying with him or her, actively listening, staying calm, and removing anything he or she could use to hurt him/herself. Don’t leave your friend alone.
Escort. Tell someone immediately. Take your friend to someone who is trained to help, such as a primary care provider, chaplain, or health professional, and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or 911 for additional support.
The Department of Defense has dedicated September to building awareness around suicide prevention. DoD has kicked off the campaign with a new Crisis Support Guide for Military Families—“Supporting Military Families in Crisis: A Guide to Help You Prevent Suicide”—that addresses suicide prevention, including warning signs, risk factors, and what to do in an emergency. Although the focus is on what families can do to help Warfighters at risk, there is advice for individuals too. Highlights include things you can do to take action: offering support, promoting a healthy lifestyle (caring for yourself, too!), and different treatment approaches that could help.
For more resources, go to HPRC’s section on suicide prevention.