Susan will never forget the day when she was recovering from breast cancer surgery in the hospital.

(Who is Susan, you ask? That’s psychologist Susan Silk – and through her experience with breast cancer, she’s learned a LOT…not just about cancer, but about the dos and don’ts of emotional support for cancer patients.)

But back to that time in the hospital…

Understandably, Susan didn’t feel like having any visitors that day. She was exhausted and just wanted to be alone to rest and recharge.

So when a colleague unexpectedly came to visit her, Susan explained to him how she felt.

Guess what he said to Susan?

“Well, this isn’t about you!” 


I think you’ll probably agree that this is not the best way he could’ve responded

He was basically saying that Susan’s needs were less important than his. (Which is NOT true!)

But something wonderful came out of that crappy experience…

It motivated Susan to create a framework to improve the emotional support for cancer patients and caregivers. She calls this framework, the Ring Theory 💍💐❤️

You can see the basic idea in this image👇

So…how can Susan’s Ring Theory help you?

In a nutshell, the Ring Theory provides a framework for what to say – and what NOT to say – during times of crisis…so that the person who most needs support actually gets it 🙂 

There are 6 different “rings”. 

And they’re structured so that the emotional support flows inward ➡️ (to you, the patient) and venting flows outward ⬅️ (to the people further away from the immediate situation).

Here’s the gist! 👀

🔹Ring 1 is you

As the cancer patient, you are always allowed to be however you are! You can vent, talk, scream, cry to anyone in any of the outer rings. You do not need to give support to anyone – not even your partner. Your job is to receive support. 

🔹Ring 2 includes your spouse/partner, any kids, and immediate caregivers

These lovely folks are there to support you. And when they need emotional support, they can turn to the people in the outer rings

🔹Rings 3, 4, 5 includes everyone else who knows the patient…

So they can give support to anyone in the inner rings closer to the patient. For example, if you look at the image above: Susan’s mother (Ring 3) could vent to her sister (Ring 4), but not to Susan’s husband (Ring 2).

In other words, her mom can give support to people in the inner rings (Rings 1 and 2) and she can receive support from people in the outer rings (Rings 4,5,6). Make sense?

🔹Ring 6 is reserved for “the Lookie-Loos

This includes anyone with little emotional attachment to you. This could be the random lady at the grocery store, certain doctors, or other folks in your community who you might call acquaintances. Lookie-Loos have no one to vent to! 😉 Their only job is to offer support to those in the inner circles. And it’s worth pointing out that Lookie-Loos can actually play a really key role because of that emotional detachment. This also includes counsellors and therapists. 🧡

A red wooden heart is held by two sets of hands.

So as the holidays are officially upon us – in whatever way that might look like for you – I hope this helps to bring some awareness to your own needs and to feel more grounded in where you are right now and what you need.

Let us know if you have any thoughts after reading this. We are thinking of you.

And if you’d like any additional support for your cancer care, you can always book a free 30-min call with our Cancer Care Specialists.

Looking for Counselling Support?

CTOAM also offers counselling for patients and their loved ones, so just reach out if you think that might help you.

Published by on December 30, 2020