How to Cope When a Family Member Is Diagnosed With Cancer

Receiving a phone call that a parent, sibling, or beloved aunt is diagnosed with cancer evokes a series of unexpected emotions. The initial shock hits like a ton of bricks but won’t last. It will soon be overshadowed by other feelings like anger, sadness, guilt, and grief. You can also expect anxiety and the fear that, someday, you may become a cancer victim as well; you will remember all the times you were asked during medical checkups if cancer runs in the family.

Several things can be done to help yourself, family members, and friends cope with a cancer diagnosis. Talk about the situation, the possible changes, treatment options, support systems, and the help you can provide. Research the type of cancer that was found, and the potential physical and emotional changes that may transpire.

Assisting your loved one in these trying times will be tough but rewarding. Develop a strong coping strategy. Understand how this disease can change a person recently diagnosed with cancer and study proven support techniques. The following tips can also be useful in your endeavor:

  • Prepare yourself by asking medical professionals questions about the type of cancer your family member is dealing with, treatment options, side-effects of medications, and ways to best help the patient.
  • Accept that cancer patients undergo physical and behavioral changes which are beyond your control.
  • Stay calm and collected at all times – this is not about you.
  • Leave your personal problems and health issues at home.
  • Do not pretend to know what the patient is going through unless you are a cancer survivor.
  • Speak from the heart, express your concern, be encouraging and convey your willingness to “be there” no matter what happens.
  • Take time to listen and be patient. Emotional breakdowns are unavoidable.
  • Avoid hurtful and embarrassing situations by thinking before speaking.
  • Inspire the patient to be active and focused on goals. Many cancer types can be cured or go into remission.
  • Do not neglect your own physical and emotional needs. Get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, start an exercise program, and take time for yourself. Do not abandon your hobbies.
  • Try to maintain a positive attitude and make the patient laugh. It is unavoidable, but at some point, you will start to question your own mortality. That is normal.
  • Involve friends and family members no matter where they live. These folks can be equally helpful to the patient and give you a well-deserved break. Relatives living in far-away places can call or use modern technology for video-chats. A funny letter or postcard can generate a smile or laugh to brighten up a patient’s day.
  • Joining a support group can be tremendously helpful when a family member is diagnosed with cancer. Learn from the experiences of others.
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Cancer patients sometimes are embarrassed to ask for help. Offer to run errands, pick up groceries, prepare a meal, plan a fun outing, or drive them to the hospital for treatment. Every bit helps.

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Be prepared to adjust your attitude and support. Patients have good and bad days. Also, know that it does not get easier when another family member is diagnosed with cancer. Expect the same emotional turmoil.


by Irida Sangemino