Cancer Can Impact a Whole Family

Everybody copes differently with cancer, even within a family unit.

When my sister was diagnosed, I began to research. Through that process, I came to understand that the information that is readily available isn’t always what patients and loved ones should be reading. It is why, in part, I made the choice to contribute to CURE. Writing these articles has helped me better understand how my family and I coped during cancer, and how best to cope now that my sister is in remission.

Of everything I read, there was so little about what going through cancer would actually be like. While much was said about the actual illness and treatments, little was said about the process of having cancer, like how it would affect the family or the impact that it would have on life in general.

For me, this created a secondary feeling of fear. As strange as it may seem, when my sister’s diagnosis was given, it felt as if we were alone in the world. We were in a hospital with qualified nurses who dealt with cancer daily, but it did not matter. We as a family coped very differently. In the end, it did damage to a family that I once thought was unbreakable.

Since I spent a lot of time bedside while my sister was in the hospital, that meant that when home, I wanted to unwind and shut off. That was not always possible and in some ways, it took away the haven that home had once been for me. In the harder moments, I felt even more alone as my siblings withdrew because it came to feel like they were denying cancer despite the harsh truth.

Another difficult part to coping with cancer was adjusting to the new roles that I was filling. They changed often and were fairly loosely defined. I started as a sister and quickly became a caregiver and all that singular role entails. I would be a confidant, consult, power of attorney, friend and almost a second mom while my sister was ill. It was overwhelming at times and until rather recently, I didn’t fully understand how much it had truly affected me.

While happening, these changes did not seem to matter. I did what was needed. In reality, these changes impacted my mental health. Although I spoke to my dad about my sister’s condition, I did not feel comfortable speaking to either parent about how it impacted me because I knew they were deeply upset about possibly losing another daughter.

Even when I had time, I rarely it spent it away from her. I felt that my siblings — who did not choose to spend time with her – did not fully understand the situation. They didn’t understand how I felt. But the reality is that we were all experiencing our sister having cancer. We were just doing it in our ways to get through the unmapped journey.

In the end, by executing so many roles, I strained relationships with others. I did not always take care of my own needs and neglected myself by spending so much time focused on my sister. I denied friends quality time and could not redirect away from cancer when at home. These are all things that I wasn’t able to see while going through cancer. In the aftermath, I can now look at them objectively.

I now know that what we endured was similar to what many families who face a cancer diagnosis endure. Cancer is something that comes into life and exposes the vulnerable parts of life. Everybody copes differently, even within a singular family unit. I know that I reacted and coped drastically different than the rest of my family did. What I also know is that despite all that cancer changed within my family, it did not change the fact that we are and will always be a family.