We have many weapons in the fight against cancer: chemotherapy medications, advanced radiation techniques, expert physicians, skilled surgeons, and more. The best that modern science and technology can offer is available to cancer patients at Texas Oncology. Still, every week in our practice, I see another powerful and underappreciated weapon—hope.

Doctors have long noted the positive effect of a hopeful attitude but it’s more than an anecdotal hunch. Two years ago, a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology confirmed that breast cancer patients with fewer symptoms of depression tend to live longer.

Fighting cancer takes everyone: nurses and caregivers, children and siblings, old friends and new ones. Every patient benefits from a caring community of support and hope but you can’t fight cancer with hope alone. Emotional, spiritual and psychological strength for the fight is integral to healing. As we enter the season that’s all about counting and sharing our blessings, it is important to recognize these communities of hope and inspiration, and the many ways that they lift up their loved ones. From their examples, we offer the following suggestions for giving the gift of hope this holiday season:

  • Focus on the future: Talking about future happy milestones, whether it’s a length of time or an activity, puts many people in a hopeful mindset.
  • Visits from loved ones: Friends and family, whether visiting a hospital or a home, help break up a routine and shift the focus to happy memories and the hope of more memories to be made.
  • Encouraging words: Sometimes patients need a voice outside themselves to tell them “You can do it.” For some, it has even more meaning when the voice is that of a close friend rather than a doctor or nurse.
  • Faith: Finding hope in a higher power or greater plan brings comfort and peace to many patients.
  • Talk to someone who’s been there: Talking to cancer survivors, especially those with a similar cancer or treatment plan, can provide a sympathetic ear. They’re living proof that patients can keep fighting.
  • Take action: Joining a 5K, donating to a cancer-related cause or volunteering with the local cancer organization shows your commitment to giving hope to your loved one, and all cancer patients, fighting this disease.

Supporting cancer patients can take many forms. There’s something for everyone to do. Your contribution won’t necessarily remove your loved one’s pain but it can make the difficult experience more bearable. Cancer is a serious disease with many fits, starts, ups, downs, triumphs and challenges. Sadness, distress and worry are normal but the negative emotions need not dominate. We see so many examples of loving, committed and hopeful support each day in our practice. From our up-close view of heroic struggles, we are convinced that hope helps keep our patients motivated and moving, instilling in them the fortitude they need to overcome cancer.

Let’s all choose to give the gift of hope this season.

Dr. Nurul Wahid M.D., Texas Oncology–McAllen