5 Ways to Find Support When Living with Head and Neck Cancer

Living with head and neck cancer can feel overwhelming, but you are not alone.

Support groups offer the opportunity to connect with others, share your experiences, exchange what you’ve learned, and also provide support to others who may need it.

Being diagnosed with a head and neck cancer can feel overwhelming. A person with head and neck cancer will need to learn a lot of information about their diagnosis, become familiar with their healthcare team, and make decisions about their treatment. They will also need to consider what type of care they will require after treatment—will they need speech and swallowing therapy, nutrition therapy, or other forms of rehabilitation?

Throughout this process, a person must also cope with the ways that head and neck cancer can affect mental health—difficult emotions like grief and uncertainty, changes in how you feel about yourself and your body, concerns about how the diagnosis will affect work, finances, and family.

Here are some strategies that may help.

Communicate with your healthcare team
First and foremost, be open and honest with your healthcare team about how you are feeling. This includes symptoms and treatment side effects, as well as your moods and concerns. Cancer is a different experience for every person. It’s also something that many people experience—and as a result, healthcare teams have strategies in place to help guide a person through the different challenges that come with a cancer diagnosis.

To give you the best care possible, your healthcare team needs to know what you need, and you will be their best source of information. It’s also important to tell your healthcare team if you have ever been diagnosed with a mental health condition and if you are taking a medication for a mental health condition.

Work with a counselor or therapist
Even if you have never felt the need before, consider working with a therapist, counselor, or other healthcare provider who specializes in mental health.

Even those who are confident and capable of coping with the mental and emotional burdens of living with a head and neck cancer can benefit from counseling, as it can provide an additional element of support. Counseling can help you learn strategies for coping with stress and making decisions. Sessions also offer time to step back from both the demands of cancer treatment and everyday life and focus on what you need.

These resources are available for people living with cancer—and are something to discuss with your healthcare team. Also think about the type of support you need and who you feel most comfortable working with. Some examples and options include:

  • A healthcare provider who specializes in mental health, such as a psychiatrist, psychologist, or psychiatric clinical nurse specialist.
  • A licensed counselor, such as a licensed mental health counselor or licensed pastoral counselor.
  • A clinical social worker or oncology social worker.
  • A spiritual or religious leader.

In addition to one-on-one counseling, people living with cancer may also participate in couples counseling or family counseling.

Work with your oncology social worker
Mentioned in the previous section, an oncology social worker is a licensed professional who can provide counseling. An oncology social worker can also help guide you through the many different aspects of living with and treating cancer—navigating the healthcare system, understanding your diagnosis and treatment options, finding ways to reduce the cost of treatment.

Build your social support network
Family, friends, and loved ones are also a valuable source of support when living with and treating a head and neck cancer. This is sometimes referred to as “social support.” It can mean having a family member to talk to when you need someone. It can mean having a loved one to ask for help with errands or transportation when you do not have the energy. It can mean having a friend to spend time with when you need a break from thinking about cancer.

Connect with other people living with cancer
Consider participating in a support group for people who are living with cancer, either online or in person. Cancer is something that no one can truly understand until they have experienced it themselves. Support groups offer the opportunity to connect with others who know what the experience is like, where you can share your experiences, exchange what you’ve learned, and also provide support to others who may need it.

Article sources open article sources

National Cancer Institute. Emotions and Cancer.
American Society of Clinical Oncology. Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer: Follow-Up Care. October, 2022.
Petr Szturz, Carl Van Laer, et al. Follow-Up of Head and Neck Cancer Survivors: Tipping the Balance of Intensity. Frontiers in Oncology, 2020. Vol. 10.
American Cancer Society. Psychosocial Support Options for People with Cancer.
Lauren Chatalian. Communicating With Your Health Care Team. CancerCare Connect Booklet Series. November, 2020.
Maryrose Mongelli. Maintaining Good Mental Health When Coping With a Cancer Diagnosis. CancerCare. May 4, 2018.
American Society of Clinical Oncology. Counseling. January, 2021.
National Cancer Institute. Spirituality in Cancer Care (PDQ)–Patient Version.
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Cancer Mental Health Counseling for Individual & Families.
Penn Medicine Abramson Cancer Center. Oncology Social Workers.
University of Minnesota Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing. Social Support.

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