When my dad was diagnosed with cancer, there was one thing we never considered. Dealing with cancer in the family is pretty devastating.
Like most families, we began to assemble together so we could develop a plan to kick this thing’s ass.
Just so you know… If you’re drowning in the overwhelm of a cancer diagnosis, we can help you SIMPLIFY the complex issues that come with cancer. Finding the best care, talking with your insurance company, finding resources that will actually help, and dealing with the fear, anxiety and overwhelm of this whole situation.
I pretty much moved in with my parents while we worked out the logistics of treatments and dr appointments. And my sister drove up from North Carolina with her husband and two small children.
Within days, all of my favorite people were gathered in the same place.
And instead of these family dynamics bringing comfort and support….
We were all driving each other CRAZY.
The one thing you don’t expect when cancer drops in, are the people who have been there for everything, supported and guided you through every major event in your life… are suddenly clueless on how to proceed.
Everyone was falling apart. Which I totally expected.
What I didn’t expect was that each person’s method of dealing with this news seemed to be interfering with someone else’s way of dealing.
Which just created more and more stress.
I was TERRIFIED by this diagnosis. But, I didn’t have time to fall apart.
Dealing with cancer in the family means you have serious stuff that has to be dealt with now. We had to coordinate treatment, deal with all of the crazy symptoms he was having, and we had to figure out how to fight this thing.
I remember saying to my dad, “I’m going to move into this room with you”. “ Seriously, I can’t be around them.”
Me? I had a mission. And if we were going to get this done, I had to stay focused on that.
Problematic Emotions That May Pop Up.
For some people, (like me) being mad is MUCH EASIER than being sad.
You push everything about the situation out of your mind and you pretend it’s not happening. You keep going along as if nothing has changed.
Depression and hopelessness
The “worst-case scenario” can feel like the only option because the situation is so big and so overwhelming that it’s impossible to know where to begin processing it.
You step out of the scenario. When you can’t deal, you don’t. You become unavailable, you “check- out.”
You burst into tears over everything and anything. Sometimes with no warning at all, you just find yourself hysterical.
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… talking about every memory and every moment.
Not being able to keep anything. Throwing away everything (like clothing, books, personal items) so you don’t have to look at or think about any of this.
Preparing for the worst
These are the people who want to be prepared for the outcome. They are TERRIFIED of the future and feel like they already know what’s coming, so there is no reason to put it off. They try to skip ahead and prepare for the doomsday (before we 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.
When you’re able to handle the situation better than anyone else, that means you should be in charge of everything, right?
What about me
When a person becomes so affected by the circumstances (like the diagnosis of a loved one) but they are consumed by how this overwhelming news is going to affect them and their life.
Every single one of these is a totally normal response to a high-pressure situation like dealing with cancer in the family.
But, in the moment, when everything is falling down around you… someone’s denial of the situation can push you right over the edge.
The Best Tips For Dealing With Cancer in The Family.
“Get out of the kitchen” so to speak. At least for a while.
Take a minute. An hour. Or, just a breather.
Go for a jog outside. Run to the store to get a few groceries, take the dog for a walk, or find a quiet space to sit and make phone calls.
Sometimes even a quick break from the “heat” of this situation can help you power through in a much better headspace.
You get some time to figure out your own thoughts, think about how you actually feel, and what you need to do to get through.
Taking space is a great way to get a break from the whole situation.
Company helps. Someone coming in from outside the situation can bring a different perspective AND be a great distraction from everything that’s going on.
First of all they don’t really know a whole lot about what’s going on, so you have to bring them up to speed. Having company can create a situation where you all have to work together as a team to contribute to the conversation and make sure the important stuff gets heard.
And finally, you’ll also get to talk about ANYTHING else, which will be a blessing. A few hours to just chat and forget this HUGE looming problem of dealing with cancer in the family is an amazing gift.
Distraction is a great way to deal with family dynamics. Instead of focusing on the things that are driving you crazy, find a project or a task that has been waiting for you and dive in.
Clean out your closets or kitchen cabinets. Set up a cancer binder. Start painting your bedroom. Whatever takes your mind off all of this craziness, dive into it.
Kids and pets are both a great distraction. They keep you on your toes, they keep you busy and there is always something new and fascinating going on to catch your attention.
Take a deep breath
A simple but effective way to help you relax in less than a minute.
No, it won’t solve everything, but you’ll feel a big difference after this one little action. Deep breathing is a proven method of lowering stress and helping you get through life’s challenges.
You just have to remember to do it!
Put Things in Perspective:
This experience is terrifying, and it changes constantly so you can never actually trust that you’re in a stable place.
Whatever is happening right now, it’s probably not as scary as it is in your head.
I’m not saying that the situation is good, but I am saying that you have survived every challenge that has been thrown your way up until this point and you are going to survive this too.
Hang in there…
Ask for help
You can’t do everything by yourself, you just can’t. Not to mention, you’ll burn out before you even get started. And if that happens, you won’t be able to help anyone.
Figure out the people who can help, the people you can rely on. Even if it’s just for an hour.
Anything you can remove from your to-do list is time that you can use to relax, spend time with your family, catch up on sleep, read a book or grab coffee with your best friend.
And trust me, there is not a huge amount of time for any of those things when you’re dealing with cancer in the family, so you should take advantage of every single second you have. (And yes, sitting quietly staring at the wall totally counts! At least it’s a break!)
Help can be as simple as…
- A neighbor to cook a meal or do a few loads of laundry.
- A friend to pick up the kids or grab a prescription.
- Your sister to cover a doctor’s appointment.
- A cousin to mow the lawn or fix the front door.
- Your sister-in-law to give you an hour off.
These little things become HUGE when cancer starts to take over your life. The 20 minutes it takes someone else to grab a prescription is 20 minutes you get to do whatever you want.
Talk to Someone: Unload some of this stuff you’re carrying around. You won’t believe how much better you feel when you get some of it off your chest.
It may be exactly what you need to get your head back in the game. Talk to a friend, a family member, a co-worker, or text a therapist (which by the way you can do while you are running all over the place.) You HAVE to push through this. Your loved one needs you. Talking to someone will help.
Laughing is an incredible (and natural) stress reliever. Sometimes my family and I just laughed because we couldn’t believe how crazy everything was and we didn’t know what else to do.
You won’t believe how much better you feel. Make laughing a priority and find something that will make you laugh so hard you cry.
HUGE STRESS RELIEVER.
Have a meltdown
Crying is an incredible stress reliever. I always feel so much better after I cry everything out. Aside from the swollen eyes, and the overall feeling of exhaustion…
Crying is a great way to get some of the pain and the stress out of your system.
There are very few things that are certain when you’re dealing with cancer in the family. Things are changing constantly and whatever direction you are heading in now could take a sharp left by tomorrow.
God is the only one who knows what’s actually going to happen here. We were told in the beginning that my dad had “days to weeks” to live. And we battled Lung Cancer for 21 months (and finished two bucket lists).
A lot of meaningful time and some pretty amazing things happened over the course of our journey. In the end, God was the only one who knew what was actually going to happen.
Expel some of this negative energy by walking, running, hiking, boxing, swimming, CrossFit (the list is endless). Working through some of these feelings with exercise is a great way to shed some of the stress and keep yourself healthy at the same time.
It’s one of the best ways to combat the stress and it totally works.
During our cancer journey, my husband and I spent an entire weekend ripping out all of the bedroom ceilings of our house. We pulled down tons (and I mean TONS) of plaster and lathe and replaced it with new updated ceilings.
And we did all the work ourselves.
By the end of the ceilings, we were both totally exhausted. But there is nothing in the world like the feeling of taking on a huge project like that and breaking everything in your path.
It was an absolutely incredible stress reliever. And as a bonus, the ceilings looked great. We ROCKED it.
Write it out
This kind of stress and anxiety is really intense and dangerous to your health. Writing it all down may help you find some relief, some perspective and the motivation to keep going.
I am convinced that the only way I survived the stress of this journey and the death of my dad, was this blog. Here, I can unload all of the things I am feeling and hopefully make things a little easier for you in the process.
You have to get some of this stuff off your chest.
Talk to someone who can help
If writing is not your thing, talk to someone. You have to unload some of this stuff you’re carrying around. Talk to a friend, a family member, a co-worker, or text a therapist (which by the way you can do while you are running all over the place.)
The stress and anxiety of this situation will eat you alive and you feel like you can’t escape. You won’t believe how much better you feel once you get it off your chest.
Get out and do something fun
Sometimes taking a break is exactly what you need. Get out of the house, go for a walk, catch a movie, take a drive, head to the beach, go for a swim, grab lunch, spend some time reading…
Whatever you feel like doing, make arrangements for someone to cover with your loved one for a short period of time and go do it. If today is not a possibility, then make it happen tomorrow.
Identify tools that help you stay in a good place
Figure out what works for you and make sure you always have it available.
Keeping a “bag of tricks” that you can use when things get really intense can be a great way to stay mentally healthy and take a break when you need one!
And they can be simple things, as long as they make you feel good!
- Bubble baths
- Cuddling with your dog
- Herbal Tea
- Mommy/daughter dates
- Read a good book
Figure out what works for you and use it when you need it.
There are literally hundreds of ways that you can get physical and combat stress at the same time. Most importantly, it’s about finding something you love to do, that feels good while you’re doing it.
Ways to get physical like…
- Take the dog for a walk
- Push a wheelchair
- Play at the playground with your kids
- Clean out the garage
- Do some gardening
- Participate in a relay for life
- Go out dancing
- Take the kids skating or bowling
- Take a hike
You’ll use your muscles, get some exercise, and feel better in the process.
Talk to a doctor about options (including medication)
Dealing with cancer in the family is not a typical situation, but it’s probably going to be a long situation. The stress is the most intense thing I have ever experienced and you need to be game on, all the time.
If you are struggling to get yourself back in the game, it may be time to talk to the doctor about something that can help. About 8 months into our journey, I felt like if I didn’t talk to the doctor about something to help with the anxiety, the stress alone was going to kill me.
The medicine they gave me helped tremendously with my constant worrying about everything. Talk honestly with your doctor about what this experience is like for you and what you’re struggling with. There may be something that can make a big difference.
Create a Bucket List
Cancer has a bad habit of taking over your whole life by stealing your time with treatment, doctors’ appointments and rough days.
Screw cancer. It doesn’t get to do that.
It’s hard day after day to get up in the morning and be excited about more appointments.
We need things to look forward to. Things to be excited about, think about and plan for.
The more reasons both you and your loved one have to keep going and keep fighting this thing, the better.
Bucket lists are NOT about dying. Bucket lists are about living.
Make a list of the things you want to…
Then have your loved one do the same.
Dealing with cancer in the family is totally overwhleming. Cancer is a team sport.
This is not a one person battle. Families play a huge role in this disease.
If only hope and faith could spread as quickly through the family as the stress and anxiety does.
Honestly, when you think about family dynamics, it makes perfect sense.
Drop a life-threatening disease on an extremely tight family, get them all together in the same space. Load them with stress, fear, and intense pressure and boom….
Watch the fireworks!
How do you cope with difficult family dynamics? Let us know in the comments!
Heads up! If you have no idea how to deal with a cancer diagnosis, we can help you formulate a plan to SIMPLIFY the complex “stuff” that comes with this disease… Finding the best care, talking with your insurance company, finding resources that will actually help, and dealing with the fear, anxiety and overwhelm of this whole situation.
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