Facing the different cancer stages with your family

Cancer is an illness that no one should have to handle alone. Trying to manage on your own can add to the stress of being sick. If it’s hard to ask for help, keep in mind that some people want to lend a hand, but that they may not know what’s needed. Try making a list of chores that will let your loved ones feel useful, and will allow them to show how much they care. Your church, or a local support group, can also help you keep to some of your daily routines.

The kind of aid that you need may change in each stage of your illness. Let’s look at some of these important stages:

Newly-diagnosed

A cancer diagnosis brings up many strong feelings that you might want to talk over with other family members. If your family learns about your cancer and the ways that it will affect you physically and emotionally, they’ll have a better idea of what you’re going through and what to expect. They may be able to help make good decisions about your care.

If you’re feeling emotional and find that it’s hard to pay attention to what your doctors are saying, bring a family member with you to appointments. This person can ask questions, take notes and be your advocate (someone who is on your side, and helps to speak for you). If English isn’t your first language, you may need a person to translate between you and your doctors. It’s not a good idea for a family member to act as an interpreter, though. The law says that hospitals have to offer interpreters for people who want to hear their medical information in a language other than English. Don’t be afraid to ask for an interpreter if you need one.

You may want to ask a family member to keep track of your treatment schedule. This person could also arrange for outside help when it’s necessary.

Cancer support groups are offered at most local hospitals, for people with cancer and for their family members. You would be able to talk about your feelings with others who understand what you’re going through. You will learn new ways to handle everyday problems.

During treatment

Once you start treatment, you’ll have a better feel for the type of help that’s needed. If you’ve had surgery or chemotherapy, for example, you may have trouble handling everyday tasks. You may need a babysitter for your children, some help with personal care (such as bathing), or a ride to your doctor’s appointments.

Going through treatment can be hard, especially if you’re also dealing with painful medication side effects. You may want to share your feelings with your partner or a close relative. A social worker who specializes in working with people who have cancer can offer extra support.

After treatment – when your cancer is in remission

Reaching the end of your treatment can be a happy time, but it could also be stressful:

  • You may feel worried or depressed by not seeing your medical team as often.
  • You’ll be living with the chance that the cancer may come back.
  • You may need to get used to short- or long-term physical changes that were caused by the cancer or your treatment.

It’s important to talk about your feelings with family members. Your loved ones may expect you to go back to your former life and be your “old self,” as if nothing happened. Cancer survivors often talk about life after treatment as the “new normal.”

It can take time to feel better and to reach your old energy level. Sometimes the side effects of treatment, such as nerve pain, can keep going for months or years. You may need help from family members to handle everyday chores until your health gets better, or until you’ve adjusted to your new life.

Some people turn to therapy, support groups or their faith to help make sense of their cancer experience. They are learning to get used to life as a survivor.

After treatment– if your cancer remains (or returns)

In some cases, treatment doesn’t get rid of all the cancer in a person’s body. Finding out that you still have cancer, or that it has come back, can feel as shocking as it did when you first learned about your diagnosis. This is the time when emotional support from family members is very important. You will want to lean on each other.

Along with emotional support, family members can offer some other kinds of help at this time: They can look for information about other ways to treat your cancer; they could help with household chores; lend a hand with your personal care and pain management; or plan for a visiting nurse to help.

If there are no treatments left to try, you and your family may need to deal with end-of-life issues instead – like a living will, or arranging for hospice care. Your medical team will have more information about these options.

The goal is to let you do – and still enjoy – as many activities as possible in spite of your illness.

References

American Cancer Society. (2007) When someone you know has cancer. Retrieved 6/30/08 from www.cancer.org.

Blum, D. CancerCare Connect (n.d.) Caring for your loved one with cancer. Retrieved 6/30/08 from  www.cancercare.org.