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On Your Own

Facing the challenges of cancer while living alone

On Your Own - Facing the challenges of cancer while living alone
Learn more about social networking tools that can help you reach out to friends and long-distance family.

Cancer can turn any household upside-down, but facing cancer while living alone can add to the challenges of coping. Who will help pay the bills if you can't work? How do you get to the clinic for treatment if the medicine makes you too sick to drive? Who will help you take your pills on that day when the kitchen is just too far to walk?

Aryana Robbins, a social worker at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center, said people with cancer who live alone face a lot of unique challenges.

"We help a lot of patients who live alone with the practical aspects of their care," she said, "but we also try to encourage them to seek out emotional support as well. It's difficult to be the patient, the caregiver and the advocate at one time."

Asking for help is the key for people who live alone. Connecting to people and services in your community helps to alleviate a sense of isolation that is common among people with cancer who live in a household of one.


Reach out to friends, acquaintances, members of your community of faith and co-workers. People often are willing to lend a hand if they know you need it. Give them options, depending on your level of comfort, about how they can get involved.

An office fundraiser may be appropriate for one person, while another may feel more comfortable asking neighbors for help with meals or rides. Ask a friend to coordinate offers of help with the tasks that need to be completed.

Reach out to community organizations.

Local non-profit and religious organizations may offer assistance. In particular, the American Cancer Society, United Way and Area Agencies on Aging may be able to connect you with volunteers who can help with transportation, shopping, housekeeping, meals and companionship in difficult times.

Use the Web.

Several online tools are available to help you share your story with friends and family -- and inspire them to contribute everything from kind words to a Sunday casserole to a case of nutritional drinks. is offered free to University of Michigan patients. The site offers free space to post updates about your condition; this is especially helpful if family is spread out across the country. is a useful tool for soliciting and organizing help. Also, consider setting up a wishlist via to let people know what supplies you need, even if they aren't offered for sale by Amazon.

Bring a tape recorder.

If you don't feel comfortable inviting a friend to your medical appointments, bring a tape recorder to help you remember what your doctor says. You can listen to these conversations again later if questions pop up. You can also ask your doctor to be sure that a copy of the clinical notes from each visit is mailed to you.

Get support.

No matter how independent you are, it's important to have an emotional outlet during these difficult times. Make regular phone calls to catch up with friends socially. And consider talking with a therapist, counselor, member of the clergy or spiritual care provider.

Tap into the Power of Social Networking

Social networking can be a helpful tool in organizing assistance when you're dealing with a cancer diagnosis. Here are links to help you get started with three helpful online resources.

CarePages offers free Web sites to families coping with cancer and other serious illnesses. Patients can post updates about their condition, share thoughts about how they are feeling and share photographs via the Web site. This can be an especially helpful tool for updating family and friends without having to make many phone calls and repeat the same news.'s Universal Wish List

People register for gifts when they get married or have a baby. Cancer is a life-altering event, too-and one that can strain even the healthiest bank accounts. Consider creating a Universal Wish List and sharing it with friends. This service allows you to list products from any Web site: everything from laundry detergent to pricey dietary supplement drinks. Friends can purchase the items and have them shipped to you. It eases your financial burden and also offers family and friends -- even those who live far away-a way to help.

Coordinating the logistics of cancer care can feel like a major military operation. Getting to and from appointments, taking care of meals and handling the usual routine of daily life can set your head swimming. That's why we think is a Web site worth knowing. Users can set up a Web site and invite family and friends to view it. Members of your online community can then sign up to volunteer various tasks and activities. It's a simple site that will help you stay organized.

Continue reading about balancing work and home life with cancer treatment

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Thrive Issue: 
Winter, 2010