Close-up of two sets of hands clasping one another.

You can either love or dread spending time with your family over the holidays, but one thing is certain: if someone in your family has cancer, other people may struggle with what to say or how to handle their own emotions in the situation.

Susan Silk is a clinical psychologist who developed something called the Ring Theory – a simple template for how to act around people in a crisis situation. Her Ring Theory can help cancer patients and caregivers have a better understanding of how to navigate their emotional needs. This can come in particularly handy at Christmas!

→ Feel More Supported with These Resources

Check out Issue 9 of the CTOAM newsletter to learn about how the Ring Theory can help you and your loved ones.

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How to Support a Loved One with Cancer Using Susan Silk’s Ring Theory

The Inspiration for the Ring Theory

The inspiration for the Ring Theory began when Susan Silk had breast cancer. She underwent surgery for it, and during her recovery in the hospital, Susan found that she didn’t feel like having visitors. This is a common feeling for many cancer patients – they’re exhausted by treatment or the emotional toll, and simply don’t have energy to give to others.

But Susan quickly learned that her friends didn’t necessarily understand this. When she tried explaining to a colleague, who had come to visit, that she just wasn’t in the mood, it didn’t go well: her colleague responded to Susan by saying, “This isn’t about you!” Meaning that, Susan’s needs were a lower priority that those of her potential visitors.

We can see almost immediately that this was not the right thing to say to a cancer patient! And it probably put a lot of unneeded emotional stress on Susan. And so Susan went about creating the Ring Theory to teach others what to say – and what NOT to say – during times of crisis to best help the people most in need.

Graphic illustration of Susan Silk's Ring Theory
Susan Silk’s Ring Theory helps us to remember the people who most need our support.

So how does the Ring Theory work?

Ring 1: The Cancer Patient

The key to Silk’s Ring Theory is that support flows inward and venting flows outward. For this to happen, the patient always remains at the centre ring. They can vent, talk, scream, cry to anyone in any of the outer rings. They do not need to give support to anyone, not even their partner. Their only job is to receive support. 

Ring 2: Spouse, Children, and Immediate Caregivers

The next closest ring to the patient is reserved for people who are closest to the patient. This is often the spouse, children, and immediate caregivers. They are there to support the cancer patient – and when they need emotional support, or to vent about the situation, they can turn to the people in the outer rings. For instance, Susan’s husband is there to support her through the cancer; and when he needs support, he’ll reach out to other people who are further away from the immediate situation. He will not turn to Susan.

Ring 3, 4, 5: Everyone Else Who Knows the Patient

Rings 3, 4, and 5 hold the remaining people in the patient’s life. The people in these rings give support to anyone in rings closer to the patient. For example, Susan’s mother (Ring 3) could vent to her sister (Ring 4), but not to Susan’s husband (Ring 2). She supports those who are in the inner rings (Ring 1 and 2) and she can vent to people in the outer rings (Ring 4,5,6).

Ring 6: The Lookie-Loos

The very outer circle is the Lookie-Loos. This encompasses anyone with no emotional attachment to the patient: for example, the doctors and nurses helping the patient, random people like the lady at the grocery store, and other folks in the community or neighbourhood. Lookie-Loos have no one to vent to; their only job is to offer support to those in the inner circles.

Despite their name and position in the outer ring, it may seem as though Lookie-Loos serve no real purpose. However, they can actually play a very important role because of their emotional detachment to the situation. For instance, counsellors and therapists fall into this category.

Two women in the kitchen cooking.
There are many ways to offer support to a loved one with cancer, like cooking meals or being a good listener.

How to Offer Support

So what does offering support look like? Here are some examples of things you can do that support those in the inner rings:

  • Just sit and listen – let them vent!
  • Offer to do errands for them (groceries, dry cleaning, gardening, shovelling snow)
  • Bring over food or meals
  • Offer to take the dog out for a walk or take their kids for an outing
  • Make sure you’re taking care of your own emotional needs so you don’t experience caregiver burnout.

Basically, anything that will ease their daily life is a form of support. Just be sure that they actually need it – or else your gesture goes back to being about you and not them.

An elderly couple smile for the camera.

How to Accept Support

Often, we can be very willing to offer support yet reluctant to accept it. It might feel like a sign of weakness or lack of independence. But the truth is the exact opposite: being able to accept support is a sign of strength and can be vital for a successful recovery. Anything that can help you in your journey will contribute to you health and healing. Here are some ways to accept support from others.

  • Say “yes” when someone offers to do a task or errand for you, if it feels useful.
  • Be clear about what would be helpful. Would another casserole in the freezer be one too many? Then say that you don’t need anymore – and instead suggest what would be helpful, like walking the dog or babysitting.
  • It’s okay to tell someone that you just want to talk and vent (and not necessarily receive advice in return).
  • Be choosy about who you talk and vent to. Not everyone has the capacity to listen in a helpful, compassionate way.
  • Seek professional support. If no one in your life can give you the help you need, consider hiring people if you can: cleaners, gardeners, caregivers, counsellors, and so on.
  • Check out support groups – there are many support networks for people with cancer and their loved ones. Many of them are online, so you can stay at home and still feel connected.

Did you know that CTOAM offers professional counselling services for patients and their families?

→ Find Out How Cancer Counselling Can Help YOU!

A woman smiles standing outside holding a pile of logs.
Verna avoided a double mastectomy thanks to Precision Oncology.

Verna’s Breast Cancer Success Story

When Verna was 55, she noticed multiple lumps in both breasts. She visited her doctor, who then arranged an ultrasound-based core needle biopsy. Shortly after, Verna was told she had breast cancer: Grade 1, invasive, and estrogen positive.

Based on the results of her ultrasound, the core needle biopsy, and her history of lumps in both of her breasts, Verna felt it would be important for her to have a double mastectomy and sentinel lymph node biopsy testing.

However, her local oncologist had not provided Verna with a PET/CT as part of his initial diagnostic protocol. Verna had asked her oncologist whether a PET/CT would be helpful. She says he responded by saying that a PET/CT would not be helpful in her diagnosis and treatment because they (Verna’s treatment team) already had all the necessary information.

Verna’s instinct told her this didn’t feel right. So, just to be sure, Verna contacted CTOAMto get a second opinion before making such a life-changing decision.

→ Read more about Verna’s breast cancer journey…

A DNA strand overlaps a close-up of a cancer cell.
Genomic profiling is key to an effective cancer treatment plan.

How Genomic Profiling Increases Cancer Patients’ Chances of Survival

In nearly a decade of helping people recover from cancer, CTOAM’s precision oncology specialists have never seen two people with exactly the same cancer.

Our specialists have seen people with breast, lung, brain, and prostate cancer, as well as other types of cancer – and, even within the same category, no two people have had the exact same mutations driving their cancer.

Therefore, each of our patients has required a unique combination of advanced targeted therapies and nutraceuticals, and sometimes in addition to other treatment interventions.

In order to have the best chance of recovery from cancer, your treatment must target your unique genetic mutations. And for that, you need genomic profiling and Precision Oncology’s gene-based approach to cancer care.

→ How Genomic Profiling Increases Survival Rates

Talk to a Cancer Expert, for Free, About Your Specific Case

With cancer, time is of the essence. Discover how you can live longer with Precision Oncology: schedule your Precision Second Opinion today!

You have nothing to lose and years, if not a lifetime, to gain…

→ Register for a Precision Second Opinion today!

Are you ready to take the first step toward feeling better and spending more quality time with your loved ones?

CTOAM’s cancer experts have helped many patients live many years longer than standard care predicted for them, while others have become cancer-free – even after stage 4 diagnoses.

See our Precision Oncology success rates and patient case studies that detail, step by step, how we use Precision Oncology to help patients like you.  

Sign up for the CTOAM newsletter to stay up-to-date on all the latest advancements in cancer treatment, diagnostics, and support.

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Published by on December 17, 2018