Closed circle of people holding each other hands

What is a Support Circle?

A support circle is a group of people who help you with practical or emotional needs. A support circle can include people who can help you:

  • Talk about your fears or concerns
  • Get to your appointments
  • Think about what matters most to you
  • You may be surprised by who becomes part of your support circle. You can choose people to be in your support circle from any part of your life. Sometimes, family members are a good choice but for some people it is simpler to get support from people who are less close to you. The reason is that people who are close to you may be feeling concerned about you. This can make it hard for them to provide support. Sometimes, a cancer diagnosis can cause a feeling of distance between loved ones. It may take time for those closest to you to be able to help. Who is able to help depends on many factors such as personality, skills and the amount of free time they have.

    Read the sections below to learn more about how cancer survivors have built a strong support circle.

     

    Why Would I Want a Support Circle?

    Dealing with cancer can be difficult. Complex treatments, side effects and appointments can be hard to manage when you feel weak or stressed.

    You may find that having people to help you can make a difference to how you feel. They can help fill in the gaps when you are not feeling your best and can make things easier.

    You can have a support circle with just a few people or your circle could include many people but perhaps with smaller roles. Some people like their support circle to be planned with clear roles, while others prefer to let it grow naturally.

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    What Should I Look For in a Support Person?

    Sometimes, the people who can help you the most are not the people who are closest to you. They may not be the people you first expect. Who is able to help also depends on many things. This includes their personality, skills, level of empathy, and the amount of free time they have.

    Some qualities people have found helpful in their support people are:

    • A sense of humour
    • Understanding
    • Empathy
    • Positive
    • Strong faith
    • Thoughtful
    • Caring
    • Warm
    • Encouraging
    • Good listener
    • Good cook
    • Can drive

    You may also meet people in your health care team who may help you with your needs. These people may play a special role in helping you talk about and understand your needs and can connect you to the right resources. 

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    How do I Build a Support Circle?

    There are 5 steps to building a support circle:

    1. Make a list of your needs. Take some time early on to think about what you really need. Make a list of all the support you will want or need. You may want to include a “gatekeeper” on your list. This is a person who can help you politely answer emails and phone calls, and send updates to your friends and family on days when you are not feeling up to it.
    2. Match people with your needs. Once you have a list of needs written down, match your needs with what you think each person will be good at. Some people have found it helpful to create 2 support groups – 1 for emotional support and 1 for practical support.
    3. Share with your support people. Sharing your feelings and needs with people can be hard. Some survivors found it easier to share with others during activities that are part of their normal routines, like visits to the gym or over a cup of coffee.
    4. Set up an easy way to connect with the whole group. This may be really helpful for times when you have less energy. Your gatekeeper may be able to help you with these ideas:
      • Regular group emails to all caregivers. Weekly or monthly emails are helpful to update everyone. This will allow everyone to know how you are doing without adding more to your to do list.
      • Group calendars, like Outlook or Google. Set up a calendar with all the appointments and tasks that you need help with. Allow everyone in your support circle access so they can sign up for tasks. 
      • Create an interest group with your support circle. Join or create an interest group (for example, knitting) together. This will allow you and your support circle to spend time together without always focusing on your health. 
    5. Give thanks. Many survivors note that it is important to thank to people who are helping you. Small things go a long way. For example, writing a card or making extra soup to share are great ways to show you care about them too.

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    What Should I do When a Loved One Has Trouble Showing Support?

    Feeling like you have a loved one who does not want to be there for you can be very hard. But some survivors find it helpful to try to understand why loved ones may be having a hard time showing their support. People may stay quiet for many reasons. Your relationships with people may change, but if or when it feels right, you can try to connect again after a while.

    Caregiving is a special kind of skill. Not everyone copes well with being uncertain about a loved one’s wellbeing. They may avoid the topic to lessen the pain. It may take them a while to work through their feelings.

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    Resources

    The resources listed here were added by Michelle Snow, Patient Education Librarian, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and ELLICSR Cancer Survivorship Centre.

     

    For more information visit the Princess Margaret Patient & Family Library or call 416 946 4501 ext. 5383.

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    Last reviewed: 9/11/2018
    Last modified: 1/10/2020 5:37 AM