If you're a family coping with cancer, family dynamics can be incredibly stressful. Here's what to expect.
One of the most stressful points of our journey was about a month into our cancer diagnosis. My dad was sick (really sick) and we ended up in the emergency room. He was having some intense neurological issues and we couldn’t get his nausea under control.
After a week in the hospital and a ton of conversations with several dr.’s, they suspected that all of the complications were a result of the cancer spreading to his brain.
“We’ve seen this before”, they told us, “the cancer had spread to his brain.” And, judging by the intensity of the symptoms, they indicated that he had “days to weeks left.”
I have to tell you, it was an incredibly terrifying week. And the emotions… One minutes you’re crying your eyes out and the next minute, you’re mad as hell. (Heads up: there are a lot of weeks like that during a cancer battle.)
It was the very beginning of our cancer journey, so we had no idea how to deal with any of this.
Naturally, my sister made the 12 hour journey with my brother in law, my niece, and my nephew (both under 5) to stay with us.
So here we are, a family coping with cancer…
Coming together to support each other through the most stressful and overwhelming time of our lives.
Each of us handling the situation as best we can, but very differently…
And instead of it all working together…
We were completely stressing each other out. Seriously stressing each other out.
Each person’s way of dealing seems to be interfering with someone else’s method of dealing, creating more stress. Not less.
So now on top of the anxiety we were already struggling with, we were driving each other CRAZY.
If you think about this, it makes perfect sense. Drop a life-threatening disease on a close-knit family, get them all together in the same space, load them up with stress, fear, and pressure…
Watch the fireworks!
Family coping with cancer methods you should expect to encounter.
For some people, being mad at the world is MUCH EASIER than being sad.
Anger fuels you and gives you fire which can help you keep going. It can also make you say and do things you will regret.
Someone who gets upset over dumb stuff or becomes angry over things they can’t control… can make a volatile situation like this more difficult.
You get to keep your life essentially the same without making any drastic or uncomfortable changes. You push everything about the situation out of your mind and you pretend it’s not happening.
You keep going along, living your life as if everything is fine and nothing has changed.
Depression and Hopelessness
It’s pretty easy to succumb to the depression and hopelessness of a cancer situation. The intensity of cancer is insane. It literally feels like the world is crumbling down around you and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
The worst-case scenario starts to feel like the only option because the situation is so terrifying and overwhelming. You don’t know where to begin trying to process something like this.
You step out of the scenario. You can’t deal with this, so you don’t. You become unavailable, you check-out, you ignore it.
And then you pick and choose how much you can stand to be involved in the situation.
Bursting into tears over everything and anything. Sometimes with no warning at all, you just find yourself hysterical.
Every conversation, every discussion of the past, every thought about the future. Meltdowns are on the menu every single day.
Just a heads up…
Emotional responses are part of the cancer journey and part of the healing process. If you’re a family coping with cancer, you can’t skip this.
Have you ever dealt with someone who is an eternal optimist and can’t fathom the worst-case scenario? As the pieces are falling down around them, they are still telling you things are going to be okay?
To literally everything. Not being able to let go of any of this.
Keeping everything, reading everything, reliving the past over and over again… talking about every memory and every moment.
Not being able to keep anything. Getting rid of everything (like clothing, books, personal items) so you don’t have to see or think about any of this. Throwing everything out, even if they’re meaningful and important as quickly as possible.
Preparing for the Worst
These are people who want to be “prepared” for the outcome (Pro tip- you can’t prepare for this). They are TERRIFIED about the future and feel like they already know what’s coming, so there’s no reason to put it off. They try to skip ahead and prepare for the doomsday (before you’ve have actually found ourselves there).
Rather than deal with any of those “messy” emotions, why not kick into overdrive and work tirelessly to solve the endless list of problems you’re facing. And once those are solved, you can search around for a few more.
When you’re able to handle the situation better than anyone else, that means you should be in charge of everything, right? This way you can decide, without consulting anyone else what’s gonna happen next, who’s doing what, how everything will work out.
When a person becomes so affected by the circumstances (like the diagnosis of a loved one) that they are consumed by how this overwhelming news is going to affect them and their life. They obsess about what’s going to happen to them and how they will get through this.
What we’ve learned since then…
Everyone has to be able to deal with this situation in the best way they can (even if it’s making you crazy). There’s no right or wrong answer to any of this.
It’s a complication you should expect when you’re a family coping with cancer.
There are moments when you are so strong together that Supergirl couldn’t defeat you… and then there are moments when you are overwhelmed, terrified, and weak.
When someone else’s denial of the situation can push you right over the edge.
As for us, we spent another week crying, completely stressed out, and driving each other insane while they did a gazillion more tests to confirm that the cancer had NOT spread to the brain.
And when “we passed” all the tests with flying colors, we finally received our first dose of Chemotherapy. I mean seriously, did you ever think you’d find yourself in a situation where getting chemo was like winning the lottery!?! Trust me, it was better than winning the lottery that week.
It gave us more time and allowed us to embark on one hell of an adventure over the next 21 months together (but far enough away so everyone could cope as needed 🙂 .
P.S. If you have no idea how to deal with a cancer diagnosis, we can help you formulate a plan.
- Talking with your insurance company.
- Finding resources that will actually help.
- Dealing with the fear, anxiety, and overwhelm of this whole situation.
We can’t control the cancer, but we CAN show you how to manage this crisis.
And it’s 100% FREE when you sign up for our weekly emails (which are packed full of tips, inspiration, and ways to cope with this situation from someone who is living it).
P.P.S. If what you’re feeling is beyond what you can deal with on your own, trust me, I get that too.
Talkspace offers a custom based therapy plan that works AROUND your life and your circumstances. Unloading some of the stuff you’re carrying around, may be exactly what you need to get your head back in the game.
Talkspace can help you do that and give you real ways to cope with the incredible amount of stress flying at you.
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