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Cancer affects the whole family, not just the person dealing with the disease. All families are not alike and not all families will deal with cancer in the same way. Your family might include a spouse or partner, children, and parents. Or, maybe your family is made up of close friends and neighbors or even coworkers. Your family is those who love and support you.
Not all families will find it easy to talk about cancer. Some families share their feelings and fears, their frustrations and worries, with ease. Other families might find it more difficult to communicate about cancer and all the changes it brings. Sometimes using another complicated situation your family has already dealt with like the loss of a loved one, a difficult divorce, or unemployment can act as a kind of "road map" to help you communicate, determine next steps and alleviate stress. If you and your family are having trouble talking about your feelings, consider talking to your doctor, nurse, someone at church or even a counselor. Finding someone to help you and your family work through emotions can be hard to do, but in the end it can bring you closer together and prevent unnecessary tension or conflict.
It's important to understand the impact cancer can have on family roles and dynamics. Cancer might alter your routines, cause strain in relationships, or require that you have more help doing daily chores like cleaning or shopping for groceries. Insurance companies can make things difficult and the cost of treatment may cause financial strain. Some cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation can make you feel tired and weak. Surgeries often require recovery time and can leave you feeling fatigued. Depending on how your body copes with treatments, you might need someone to take time off work to help care for you. Although cancer might bring much change to your life, remember that with your family's support, all of you will get through it together.
Cancer might make it feel like your household has been turned upside down. As roles and responsibilities change, you might want to develop a clear plan for yourself. Let everyone know what things you would like to continue to try to do on your own, but then do not be afraid to let others help. Accepting help is not a sign of weakness. If your family members cannot take care of all your needs, you might consider looking into hiring outside help. Make sure everyone in your family—you included—take time to have a little fun, rest and do something "normal" that does not revolve around cancer.
The additional expense of cancer treatments can greatly alter how much money your family has to spend or to save. Depending on what your health insurance covers, you might have to pay "out of pocket" or cover some of the costs with your own money. If you are not able to work during your cancer treatment, another family member might have to get a job to help pay for expenses. Because the bills for cancer treatments can be confusing and complex, you and your family might want to sit down and carefully investigate what your insurance company will pay for and what you will have to cover.
Cancer can be just as scary for your spouse or partner as it is for you. If you normally play the role of caregiver, it might be hard for you to be the one being taken care of instead. Sharing information and making decisions about treatment together will be important. Talk to your doctor together and learn about symptoms, treatment options, and possible side effects. If your spouse or partner goes with you to the doctor, he or she can ask questions and better know how to help take care of you both emotionally and physically. Just because you have cancer, does not mean that you have to spend every hour of every day with one another. Take time for yourself and encourage your spouse or partner to take time to enjoy hobbies or just get out of the house—even if it is to do errands or take a walk.
Children even as young as eighteen months understand what is going on around them. Explain to your children that you are sick and that your doctors will be working hard to make you feel better. Although it might be hard to tell your children the truth, it is better to be honest with them and help prevent their imaginations from coming up something far worse than reality. Answer your children's questions with simple answers they will understand. Try to use vocabulary they already know. For example, say "medicine" instead of "chemotherapy, or "doctor" instead of "oncologist." There are many illustrated children's books about cancer that might be a good way to help you explain your situation to your child. Don't forget to inform other adults in your children's lives—like their teachers at school or sports coaches—about your cancer. These other adults might be able to listen, talk about feelings or answer questions for your child.
It's normal for children to react to the news of cancer in a variety of ways. Some children might feel angry when they are asked to do more to help you around the house. Other children might act out and get in trouble at school. Feeling scared, guilty, or lonely or even regressing and behaving much younger than his/her age could all be ways that a child reacts to cancer.
Teenagers are already dealing with changes in hormones and a growing desire for independence. Dealing with a parent who has cancer might make them act out, get into trouble at school, or even become depressed. Encourage your teen to stay involved at school, church, in the community and spend time with friends.
Even if you have grown children, they will still be affected by your cancer diagnosis. Although it might make them upset, worried, or frustrated, take time to talk with them about your treatment plan, financial plan and what you would like to happen if you are not able to beat the disease. It will probably be very difficult for you and your family to think about losing the battle with cancer, but communicating your requests and talking through your options can lessen anxiety. If you live close enough to your adult children, you might ask them to help with chores around the house, drive you to treatments, help you make decisions and assist in paying health bills in a timely manner. You might ask your adult children to help explain some of the information the doctor tells you or even go to doctor's appointments with you. Don't be afraid to let your children help take care of you—even if it seems awkward at first for traditional roles to be reversed.
Just because you have cancer, does not mean that you have spend any less time with your friends. On the contrary, friends are a great support system and can lend a helping hand. Just like family members, your friends might be upset, afraid and confused about what to say or how to treat you after they find out you have cancer. Reassure them that you are the same old "you." Let your friends help do things for you—it will not only help relieve stress for you, but it might help your friends cope with your diagnosis and make them feel like they are making a positive difference in your life. You might ask a friend to cook meals that you can freeze ahead of time for days when you are not feeling well, pick up and drive your children to and from school/activities or take your dog for a walk. If you like company during treatments, you might ask a friend to go and sit with you. Some friends might even want to help clean your house, water your flowers or mow your yard.
The diagnosis and treatment of cancer is scary, but drawing near to those whom you love can help to ease your fear. Your family can provide an incredible network of support in many ways, big and small, as you battle this disease together.
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