A cancer diagnosis can
send shock waves through the entire family. In many cases, the emotions and challenges associated with cancer don’t just occur during treatment, but also after cancer treatment is over. Anticipating the impact cancer can have on relationships and family dynamics can help you and your loved ones cope better with lifestyle changes and feelings of sadness, anger, anxiety or hopelessness.
Cancer changes family life
Every relationship has pre-existing roles, from small things like who does the laundry to larger responsibilities like managing household finances. Cancer can shift these responsibilities and expectations. Individuals may be forced into unfamiliar roles such as being a caregiver or being dependent on others. This can lead to stress, resentment or feelings of guilt.
Cancer treatment can trigger side effects like fatigue, nausea, weakness and pain, which make it difficult to manage daily tasks. Even after treatment ends, physical effects may linger. Yet, many people hesitate to ask for help, and family embers may not know how to help. Sexual intimacy is also commonly impacted by cancer, and it may be uncomfortable to discuss these effects with your partner.
A cancer journey is usually an emotional roller coaster. Couples, in particular, may struggle to know how to support each other when they are suffering emotionally. Even after treatment ends, emotions like fear of recurrence can be triggered by follow-up appointments, birthdays or someone else’s diagnosis.
Hopes and dreams may be disrupted when a person is facing cancer. Couples may have to delay retirement or nix moving to a new location. Reevaluating long-term priorities and replacing them with achievable, short-term goals is often needed.
Tips for navigating a cancer journey
Responses to changes triggered by cancer can vary for every family member. Joining a support group and consulting a counselor can improve coping skills, but there’s also a lot you can do on your own. Try these strategies for starters.
Be an active listener.
A cancer journey is a difficult time, filled with anxiety, sadness, anger and possibly even denial. Listening to loved ones can ease their fears and frustrations. Let them know by phone, email or in person that you are always there. Refrain from offering judgments or responding to questions that you don’t have the answers to. Instead, just listen and emphasize your love and support.
Offer practical help.
A little assistance with everyday chores or responsibilities can make life a lot easier for those dealing with cancer. Offer to help with grocery shopping, bill paying, laundry or pet care. Organize a meal train or coordinate transportation. If you’re the one in need, don’t be shy about asking for or accepting help.
Be a cancer companion.
Doctor’s visits, surgical procedures, pharmacy pickups or chemo appointments can be intimidating. Offer to be your loved one’s note-taker or chauffeur. Be sensitive to what your loved one needs and avoid being over-controlling or over-protective. If you have cancer, choose companions you can lean on and who cheer you up when you’re feeling down.
Avoid too much cancer talk.
Cancer may cast a huge shadow over your life, but don’t let it define you or your relationships. Avoid centering too many conversations around cancer and plan for tactful ways to switch topics or focus on positive subjects.
Take care of yourself.
Whether you’re acting as a full-time caregiver or just offering emotional support and helping where you can, be sure to tend to your own needs. Taking time to re-center yourself—whether it’s by taking a weekly yoga class or meeting a friend for coffee—can help you be fully present for loved ones when they need you.