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Coping within a family

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, the person’s family – however that is defined – is affected. Families can give comfort and strength as well as cause stress and anxiety. With good communication, many relationships become stronger and more meaningful as people develop a new understanding of each other. Other relationships may suffer, perhaps because they have always had problems or because people didn’t offer support when it’s needed. Often, how your family deals with your cancer diagnosis and treatment will depend on how they’ve coped with hard times together in the past.

Different people have different ideas about who is their family. Your family may be your spouse or partner and the people you are related to by blood, such as children, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins. For others people, family is simply the people in your life who love and support you.

Changing roles within the family

When cancer enters family life, roles and responsibilities often have to change. The person with cancer often needs to focus on treatment and recovery and may not have time or energy to run the household or go out to work. This may affect roles within the family as wage earners, homemakers, child caregivers, or caregivers for an aging parent.

This means other family members may have to take on new roles and responsibilities. For example, a partner may need to help pay bills, shop or do yard work, or a child may be asked to do more chores. Sometimes it’s hard for family members to get used to these new roles. Family meetings can be a good way of checking in to make sure everyone is coping with these changes.

Family meetings

Regular family meetings (perhaps once a week) are a good way for families to keep up with what’s going on with everyone. They can be a special time for everyone to talk about anything that’s bothering them, to prepare for the coming week, to plan or to spend time with each other, especially when family members live elsewhere.

At family meetings you can:

  • Talk about the schedule for the week ahead. A big calendar posted on the fridge or somewhere central can be used to keep track of everyone’s activities and appointments.
  • Prepare the family if you’re expecting a hard week.
  • Make lists of jobs that need to be done and decide who can do them.
  • Tell family members if anything about your condition or treatment has changed.
  • Find out if anyone has any questions or needs more information.
  • Plan some special time you will spend together as a family.
  • Talk about anything that affects family life, not just cancer.

You can keep family members who don’t live nearby up to date by including them in meetings by phone, online chats or Skype. They can also be updated by email after the meeting.

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