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Preventive Health

How to Cope When A Loved One Has Cancer

6 Mins read

When you find out a family member or friend has cancer, it can feel very overwhelming. Learning how to cope when a loved one has cancer is important not just for your own mental well-being, but also for your loved one’s sake.

Cancer is not just a potentially life-threatening illness with often debilitating physical symptoms, but it also adversely impacts the mental and emotional well-being of the patient and their loved ones. Sadly, the news of cancer is traumatizing for everyone involved. Cancer can drastically change family dynamics, relationships, mental health, plans, careers, hopes and dreams. 

When your loved one is facing this health crisis, you have no other choice but to stay strong and show support. Just as the cancer patient is finding ways to cope with this news, you must learn how to cope when a loved one has cancer. As a person whom the patient trusts, you are their pillar of strength and source of comfort. Staying calm and collected for their sake, however, might be easier said than done, especially if you feel emotionally devastated. Falling apart is not an option, so here’s what you can do to cope with overwhelming feelings of fear, sadness or regret. Remember, it is important to foster a supportive relationship during this time. Below, you’ll find some advice about how to cope when a loved one has cancer:

Try to Keep Things Normal Where Possible

A cancer diagnosis is upsetting enough, so trying to keep things normal can help you and your loved one cope. Your gut may compel you to do everything for the sick person to make things a lot easier. However, it is important to remember to respect the patient’s wishes. Some would still like to enjoy their independence. If you completely change the way you are around them, it could actually cause them distress.

For example, if your loved one with cancer wants to continue doing what they enjoy, you must be encouraging. Some patients still prefer to cook their meals by themselves sometimes, or even continue working a bit. Keep in mind that continuing to do normal tasks helps your loved one cope with their illness. Try not to discourage them or baby them, unless you truly feel they’re overdoing it when they should be resting.

Maintain a Positive Attitude For Your Sake and Theirs

It is natural to feel frightened, upset and worried as you witness your family member or friend undergo chemo, surgery, or other cancer treatments. However, you must try to maintain a positive disposition for your sake and theirs.  Many doctors say that a positive attitude is a big game-changer that can make a world of difference in cancer treatment. Thus, as the loved one at the patient’s side, you must do your best to stay optimistic for them. 

It would help to recall how you and your loved one helped each other through a challenging time in the past. Let that be your motivation to keep going even when things are tough. Staying positive means you recognize that hope springs eternal no matter what the situation is. It is vital to hold onto hope because it signifies a possibility for a brighter tomorrow as long as you are alive. 

Spend as Much Time As Possible With the Patient

When faced with a life-threatening diagnosis, it would help to spend a lot of quality time with the patient, so you don’t have regrets later. Indeed, time is fleeting, and nothing drives this point more than a loved one’s debilitating illness. Make the most of your time with each other. 

It could be as simple as holding the patient’s hand during doctor consultations. Most of the time, your sick family member just needs moral support. Now is the time to make memories. Go on walks, share stories, drive to a beautiful beach, or eat dinner together.

Part of how to cope when a loved one has cancer is ensuring you spend this time with them and create more memories together.

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Listen Without Judgments

Cancer patients need someone to listen without judgment. Remember, there’s no need to dole out any unwanted advice. The most important contribution you can make is to truly hear what they have to say. Be that reliable shoulder they can cry on. 

Often, sick people research their diagnosis from online resources. Moreover, they also receive a lot of overwhelming advice from doctors. The last thing they need is to get more suggestions. Instead of offering more data, statistics, and alternative treatments, be their quiet and peaceful refuge. During your times together, be fully engaged at the moment because your presence is the best present. 

Educate Yourself on Their Specific Disease

With so much information online, it is easy to find literature to learn more about your loved one’s disease. Use reputable sources that you can count on to avoid misinformation and misconceptions. You can find out about the following:

  • Required surgeries and side effects
  • Different treatment and therapy options
  • Potential side effects of chemo that they might suffer with
  • Survival rates
  • Financial costs
  • Other common concerns 

Learning and understanding the specific cancer of a loved one can help you manage your expectations and course of action, especially if you will be the caregiver. For example, the chemo room is typically cold, so you can prep blankets ahead. In addition, you can do advance prep to help them pass the time, like making a playlist or downloading a show. Besides, you can offer reassurance and emotional support when you know what changes to expect (such as body changes like dry mouth, molten skin, nausea, hair loss, etc.). 

Support Treatment Decisions

After you’ve learned about the disease, you may be tempted to offer your opinions. However, if you are a parent, you have all the right to make decisions on behalf of your minor children. Meanwhile, you can also hold a position to offer suggestions. For example, spouses and adult children often chime in about potential treatment plans. 

Though you have good intentions, remember that it is the patient who will bear the brunt of it all at the end of the day. Your loved one’s body will feel the impact of cancer treatments. Thus, you must support your loved one’s treatment decisions. The last thing the patient needs at this juncture is conflict. This creates a very negative atmosphere that adds to the already stressful environment. Instead of protesting, give your opinions calmly and respect the final decision of your sick family member. 

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Have a Good Cry 

Cancer treatment is a long, arduous process that can take many months or even years to complete. It is okay to feel sad about your situation because it is unfair when bad things happen to good people. 

Have a crying session with other family members who are also hurting. Or, have a good cry in private, to release your emotions, which is healthy. Having a good cry is a much healthier coping mechanism than attempting to distract yourself with unhealthy distractions.

After all, it is cathartic to release dark and heavy feelings. Besides, keeping everything bottled up inside you is counterproductive and unhealthy. Instead, talking to other people who share your pain can help you manage your intense emotions. 

Stay Connected With Affected Family Members and Friends

It is vital to have a support network of people who truly care about each other during these trying times. But after a good cry, let go and focus on healing. Always keep in mind that self-pity and perpetual sadness around your sick loved one will only make things worse. So instead, band together to lift the spirits of your sick family member and take things one day at a time. 

Stay connected with each other as your loved one goes through the cancer journey. It makes a world of difference when sick people feel that they are not alone. And as the one closest to the patient, it will also make you feel better when loved ones check in regularly. 

Treat Yourself Right

Don’t feel bad if you have off days, too. A cancer diagnosis will always affect those who are close to the patient. However, knowing what to expect during the treatment process can be comforting. The right information can also empower you to help your loved one cope during these trying times. The right resources can:

  • Help you learn how to care for your ill loved one
  • Teach you how to care for yourself 
  • Provide supportive tools for coping 

Most of all, let this experience be a lesson about the value of preventative health. Don’t forget to take proactive steps towards protecting your health and well-being. Cancer can be hereditary, and you could have a genetic cancer risk in your DNA, so it is best to stay one step ahead of the disease. Consult your healthcare professional and take a DNA test like CircleDNA to find out if you have a genetic risk for any cancers or diseases. This way, you can take steps towards preventing more cancer scares in the future.

Team CircleDNA
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The editorial team behind CircleMagazine, dedicated to bringing you bite-size health tips, real-life health stories and the latest genetic-related findings at this digital health hub.
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