Impact of Cancer on the Family: Coping and Supporting Each Other Through a Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis
A colorectal cancer diagnosis is life-changing and affects not only the patient, but also the entire family. Having a solid support system is important throughout the cancer process, as it can be extremely difficult at times. Family support and connection can make a significant difference in how a patient copes and their quality of life. Coming together as a family and supporting each other through such an emotional medical diagnosis can bring the family closer together and have a positive impact on how well each of you are coping. Some of the emotions you may experience after a family member is diagnosed with cancer include:
Shock and uncertainty: We do not typically go through life expecting to be diagnosed with cancer – we may think it is a disease that happens to other people until it becomes our reality. The uncertainty of a cancer diagnosis can also be present as we wonder what the future may look like, what treatments may be chosen and their effects, and a general feeling of lack of control.
Fear and anxiety: Cancer can cause a lot of anxiety about whether you (caregiver/family member) or the patient will be able to continue working and how that will affect you financially, worry about whether the treatment will be effective, or fear that your loved one will suffer.
Grief: Many things may change in your family, such as roles, responsibilities, or ability to participate in activities. It is okay to feel sad about these things and to share your sadness openly with others for support.
These are just some of the emotions you may experience, and there are many other emotions that are normal during a difficult time such as a cancer diagnosis.
What to do about the emotions as a family:
Communication: Effective communication is extremely important in a highly emotional situation like a cancer diagnosis. Having a safe space to openly share how you are feeling with each other will avoid assumptions, holding in emotions, and fear that can cause an explosion of feelings and thoughts that can hurt others.
Routine: It is important to maintain a routine that works best for everyone considering the diagnosis. Some things may need to change, and it is a good idea to get together as a family to review the changes.
Education: Get information from reputable sources, such as Colorectal Cancer Canada, to help you understand the disease, symptoms, treatment, side effects and other important factors. Being educated about the disease can reduce fear and anxiety.
Professional support: There is no shame in seeking family therapy after a cancer diagnosis, as it can cause or exacerbate communication problems and resentment. A family therapist can help you work through conflicts, improve communication, and develop coping strategies for the whole family.
Share responsibilities: Roles and responsibilities are likely to change after a cancer diagnosis. It may be important to make a list of responsibilities and share them equally among the family so that the burden of care does not fall on one person’s shoulders and determine the best routine for the family. Be sure to include some fun activities that the family enjoys and that make you laugh.
A cancer diagnosis can be very hard on a family, and it can feel like you are alone in the situation. You do not have to face this challenge alone! CCC is here to support you and connect you with other families that are facing the same challenges. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, concerns, or if you want some additional support. We have several resources available to you including the caregiver resource – “Navigating the Role of Caregiving”, which goes into further detail about coping with a family member’s cancer diagnosis.