The Hard Facts: The Healing Power of Pals

It’s Research Wednesday! Where I share the latest, or most fascinating, in the science of friendship.

“New research shows that a strong social support system, especially in the first year after a diagnosis with breast cancer, improves outcomes for women. In the study, Vanderbilt scientists found that individuals with emotionally satisfying relationships with family and friends were less likely to die or have a recurrence of cancer.” (“Social Support Helps Women Beat Breast Cancer”; 1/21/2011)

Cancer sucks.

This much we know.

But there is a lot of research out there that says that strong social support can help cancer patients fight disease. In this study of women with breast cancer, researchers found that “six months after diagnosis, only greater social well-being was significantly associated with a decreased risk of dying or having a cancer recurrence.”

The article goes on to say: “Compared to women with the lowest scores, women who scored highest on the social well-being quality of life scale had a 48 percent reduction in their risk of a cancer recurrence and a 38 percent reduction in the risk of death.”

Another study found that social attachment was a “survival advantage” for women with ovarian cancer, too.

I’m no scientist, but it seems a fair guess to say that across the board, social support can only help cancer patients.

On a personal note: I bring all this up for a fairly personal reason. One of my dearest, bestest friends–one who is mentioned often in MWF Seeking BFF, in fact–is dealing with her own cancer battle. Her 34-year-old sister was recently diagnosed with “an aggressive form of brain cancer with no known cause.” It’s heartbreaking, of course, to watch my friend go through this, and to feel like there is nothing I can do to help.


But I know from research like that mentioned above, and from talking to my pal, that receiving messages of support from both friends and strangers-turned-friends can make a huge impact. And these days sending well-wishes to people you know (even those you don’t) is easier than ever. Sites like CaringBridge, which basically hosts blogs for patients who want to keep their loved ones in the loop, have guest books for supporters to sign and leave well wishes.

See? Social media isn’t all FOMO and YOLO. There are some positive uses, too.

Oh my dear blog readers, if you are feeling so inclined, you can leave my friend’s sister a message of support here. If social support is shown to improve cancer outcomes, and leaving a message takes all of, like, 20 seconds… you could make a quick impact. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

Or set up a CaringBridge site for someone you know who is fighting a health battle.  It’s easy social support, and that makes a difference. Science says so.


Filed under The Search

2 responses to “The Hard Facts: The Healing Power of Pals

  1. Halos ma’am.

    I like this post.

    Personally, I believe that showing genuine love to people you know or even people you don’t know goes a long way, even if you don’t feel it does. I love to be there for friends as much as I can be, and deep down in my heart, even when they don’t show any sign of appreciation, I believe it does a lot to ease their troubles and worries.

    ‘M so sorry to hear about your friends sister. Do please extend my love, and care to her.

    Have a good day ma’am.

  2. I’m so sorry to hear about your friend’s sister, Rachel. 34 is so young

    And it’s true – social support and a positive attitude can both go a LONG way. My sister-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer earlier this year, and upon seeing she and my brother laughing together at one of her appointments, her doctor told them that there’s research saying that people who have positive attitudes and laugh have better outcomes, or at the very least, a much better quality of life. I think this goes hand in hand with having a good social support network.

    What’s crazy is how many people don’t say anything to show support, since cancer is such an uncomfortable topic. So getting this message out there is awesome, and letting your friend and her sister know that you’re thinking of them will definitely help a lot.

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