Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools—We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at www.cancersurvivorshipcopingtools.com,or www.clutterclearingchoices.com.
Communication is key for any relationship, particularly for the changing relationship patients with cancer may have with their family. Here are tips from a cancer survivor on how to navigate this change.
“Wait, you mean you expect me to communicate what I need to my family? I mean, seriously? You don’t get it. I mean, I take care of them, not the other way around.” Does this sound a little like what you may be thinking?
Well, hey, the reality is you are the one who is fighting cancer. Your loved ones and friends actually want to help you come out on the other side of this, so do talk to them.
Here is how to communicate what you need, even when it isn’t easy to ask for help:
This is not the time to be strong or to be coy. Your energy needs to be directed toward healing. Unfortunately, your family is not psychic. Please, please, please just calmly ask for what you need. A grocery-store run? A trip to the pharmacy? Someone, to be with you for your next chemotherapy session? A trip through the drive-through? Coupons for local restaurants? Whatever it is you need to be honest about it, don’t feel ashamed to ask.
Utilizing digital tools like Caring Bridge or setting up an email “group” for sharing your treatment updates and your needs will save you precious time and energy. Otherwise, it can be draining to hash and rehash everything individually with each person and to make sure everyone is in the loop.
Each person’s cancer experience is unique—their cancer stage and grade specifics, their age, genetics, medical history before diagnosis, financial situation, home-life situation, emotional situation are all unique to you. you will find people who understand what you are saying because they have been there too. You may have a family member who says “Hey, I had exactly what you got.” Nope, don’t necessarily buy it, but don’t spend the energy trying to get them to understand all the details. Connect where you have things in common.
Online or local cancer-specific support group members may be of more help to you during active treatment. Your family may or may not be there, but you are not alone. Ultimately, your spouse or children or siblings may not understand. Please do not waste your precious energy and time right now trying to get them to understand. Turn to those who already do understand.
That is, for healing, use all the tools at your disposal. What do they call them on that game show? Lifelines? Line them up and use them.
This is more than family, this includes friends and members of your community, maybe a talk therapist (because cancer is so darn big), support group friends (local and online) and so on.
Unfortunately, as you already know, life is not fair, and cancer is not fair either.
Some of your people will step up and some will not. The sooner you can stop fretting about the ones who aren’t there for you, the sooner you can appreciate and be grateful for the ones who are there. Don’t waste energy trying to explain to those who just don’t get it. Be grateful for the people in your life who do understand you and who are willing to listen and to be there for you.
Cancer is a mini-course in communication. You will learn and grow through this experience and your family and caregivers will grow along with you too.