Cancer Support: 6 signs you may need more help

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

DECEMBER 25, 2019

Cancer survivor receives support from oncology social worker

Many people benefit from some support during cancer treatment or the recovery period thereafter. It is very common for people to rely on support to get through the months of active therapy, and to be able to focus on managing every day. We are so busy with appointments, symptom management, self-care, and our usual work and family responsibilities that there is no time or space for feelings. Once treatment is over, many people experience some version of PTSD, or, at least, of acknowledging what has just transpired in their lives. The holiday season can be especially hard, stirring up all our family and personal issues and reminding us of the intensity of our feelings.

It is never possible to fully predict who will have more or less trouble with cancer treatment or recovery. Many people do quite well for a year after treatment. Others struggle for several years and may have to make permanent changes in their lives.

How do you know if you need support?

Here is a short list of red flags to consider:

  1. You are having trouble managing your feelings and are often angry or anxious.
  2. You have having difficulty sleeping. Going to sleep, but then awakening in the very early hours and staying awake is often listed as a symptom of depression.
  3. Your important relationships are strained. This includes relationships with your partner or spouse, parents, children, close friends, and work colleagues. Some of them may even comment that: You aren't yourself.
  4. Your work life is not going well. You may be exhausted by mid-afternoon or feel that you can't concentrate, focus, or meet deadlines as you have in the past.
  5. Your overall energy level is low, and you can't exercise or get through a day's tasks, as you have been able to do before cancer.
  6. You have concerns about sexuality/intimacy, finances, or a lowered sense of self-esteem and confidence.

If you see yourself in this list, it is time to look for help.


An oncology social worker, or another therapist who is experienced with cancer patients and survivors, can work with you on all of these issues. Ask your doctor or nurse for a referral or call the nearest large hospital or cancer center and ask to speak with an oncology social worker. You can also reach the wonderful team of oncology social workers at BIDMC.

If you are wondering whether it will help you to talk with someone, do so. Don't spend time feeling badly when you can find help. Many people successfully navigate cancer treatment and then only experience the emotional distress after it is done.


If finances are a problem, consider talking with a financial planner. Cancer treatment is expensive. Many people are left with big bills, lower incomes, and fears about money. Hospitals and medical offices have staff who can talk about payment plans, bill reductions, or other ways to manage some of the costs. Ignoring financial difficulty is never a good strategy.

Group support

Think about joining a cancer support group. Your family and friends love you and want to support and help you, but no one understands the cancer journey better than others who have gone through it too. As many people say, "This is a sister/brotherhood that no one wants to join, but we are always there for one another."

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