People (with Cancer) Need People

Hester Hill Schnipper, LICSW, OSW-C Program Manager, Oncology Social Work

AUGUST 21, 2017

Do you remember the old Barbra Streisand song: People Who Need People... are the luckiest people in the world? Turns out that research proves this to be true again and again and again.

An ongoing study in the American Journal of Epidemiology states that in a group of 7,000 men and women in Alameda County, Calif., begun in 1965, Lisa F. Berkman and S. Leonard Syme found that "people who were disconnected from others were roughly three times more likely to die during the nine-year study than people with strong social ties." These findings pertained to people of all ages, races, incomes, and social groups.

We have heard the stories of long-ago religious hermits who isolated themselves in caves or on mountain tops and presumably lived to be 100... but they may be apocryphal, and those same hermits may actually have had lots of other issues.

During and after cancer, this seems to be even more true. I don't mean the longevity statistics, but the reality that being with others in similar circumstances and feeling heard and understood is what helps us all get through tough times. Women who attend my support groups clearly feel this very strongly, and many others find cancer companions in other ways. The truth is that, no matter how much they love us and want to be helpful, our friends and family who have not had cancer just can't get it in the same way.

From Jane Brody in the New York Times comes this nice piece about the general importance of people in our lives: "Social Interaction Is Critical for Mental and Physical Health."

In Brody's article, the major difference in survival occurred regardless of people's age, gender, health practices or physical health status. In fact, the researchers found that "those with close social ties and unhealthful lifestyles (such as smoking, obesity and lack of exercise) actually lived longer than those with poor social ties but more healthful living habits," Mr. Robbins wrote. However, he quickly added, "Needless to say, people with both healthful lifestyles and close social ties lived the longest of all."

In another study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1984, researchers at the Health Insurance Plan of Greater New York found that among 2,320 men who had survived a heart attack, those with strong connections with other people had only a quarter the risk of death within the following three years as those who lacked social connectedness.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center also found that social ties can reduce deaths among people with serious medical conditions. Beverly H. Brummett and colleagues reported in 2001 that among adults with coronary artery disease, the mortality rate was 2.4 times higher among those who were socially isolated.

Has your social network affected your cancer journey? Share your story

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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