Living With Advanced CancerDownload this book (pdf, 1.09 mb)
Talking with family and friends
Talking about your feelings can be hard. However, research has shown that people cope better with a cancer experience when they're open with family and friends about their fears and concerns.
How you communicate with your partner (spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, same-sex partner etc) about cancer depends on how you've always communicated. Studies show that in difficult times, often good relationships stay strong, while weaker relationships are less stable.
At times, you and your partner may not always share each other's feelings. This can cause conflict. Sometimes, though, you may find that one of you is able to be more optimistic or clear-thinking than the other. This can help you both.
Your roles may change. Your partner may try to protect you by not letting you do anything for yourself. Or you may not be able to do what you used to do, which can lead to feelings of frustration or helplessness. It is important to feel involved at home and with the family, even if you can only do small tasks.
Sometimes partners can't help you make decisions about treatment and you find yourself doing this alone. Some partners find it hard to face what is happening and can't talk about it.
Tell your partner what you need most from them when things are tough.
For relationship difficulties, it might be useful to talk to a counsellor or to join a support group for cancer patients or carers.
Your body will probably change. Weight loss is common, and if you have treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy you may feel and look fatigued.
You might find it hard to accept these changes and worry that others will also struggle to accept you and your body.
Most partners, however, are accepting of the changes. Also remember your inner qualities, such as kindness, warmth or sense of humour, which are just as important as your physical features.
We are all sexual beings and intimacy adds to the quality of our lives. It can keep us going through difficult times. But when you have advanced cancer there will be times when it is difficult for you and your partner to have the kind of closeness you would like.
- Set aside time to talk to your partner about your feelings and needs.
- Talk about triggers for negative emotions and try to work out ways to reduce them.
- See your GP or a counsellor for help with communication and sexuality issues.
- To re-establish intimacy, start with simple things like lying close together in bed or gently hugging and touching.
- If intercourse is no longer possible or desired, show physical closeness in other ways, such as cuddling, stroking, massage or holding hands.
- See Cancer Council's information on sexuality, intimacy and cancer.
If you have children, they will probably suspect that something is wrong. They may pick up on changes at home, such as your distress or an increase in visitors.
Children need explanations that they can understand. If you've explained cancer and its treatment before, it might be easier to talk about this. However, you might find it harder to talk about the cancer advancing and being difficult to cure.
- Listen to children - this gives you a feel for what they can handle.
- Communicate feelings as well as facts.
- Give simple, honest answers, and clarify any confusion.
- Reassure children they didn't cause the cancer or make it worse.
- Try to explain what will happen next and leave children with feelings of hope, even if things aren't good at the moment.
- Don't make promises you may be unable to keep.
- Try to keep family routines as normal as possible.
- Give children extra reassurance, as they may become clingy or more withdrawn. Both are normal reactions.
- See Cancer Council's information on talking to children about cancer.
Teenagers react in different ways, e.g. withdrawing socially or offering to help more than usual. Teenagers can feel abandoned as the family focuses on the sick person. Instead of developing independence, teenagers are confronted with the needs of the family. This conflict can cause outbursts over trivial things or reactions to unacknowledged feelings such as anger, guilt or grief.
Teenagers need to keep to their normal routine as much as possible. This may be difficult when you're feeling unwell, especially if you're a single parent or your partner is caring for you so has little energy for children's needs.
- Give people who offer to help a specific task that benefits your child, e.g. taking them to sport.
- Organise a break from home for teenagers, e.g. a sleepover at a friend's or a regular night out with peers.
- Encourage teenagers to find out about cancer on websites such as www.myparentscancer.com.au and www.nowwhat.org.au.
- See Cancer Council's information on talking to children about cancer.
Adult children may also struggle when they find out you have advanced cancer. They may fear losing their parent. They may feel guilty because they can't meet the different demands on them as parents, children and employees. You may feel you have to, or want to, carry on as the head of the family, but you may find you have to rely on your adult children more and more. You may feel guilty about this.
- Your adult children may have valuable input about treatment or activities you want to continue.
- Talk about ways your children can help you, while still being able to look after the other priorities in their life.
It can be painful to be the parent of someone with advanced cancer. Parents may feel overwhelmed with sorrow and helplessness at first. It may take them a while to adjust.
- Information about your condition will help your parents or adult children cope with their own feelings.
- Learning about current medical treatments may lessen any fears arising from their past experiences with cancer.
- Attending a course such as the Understanding Cancer program might be beneficial.
Sometimes the news of advanced cancer comes when your family relationships are shaky. You may find your friends are invaluable at this time. Even if some friends aren't supportive, there will be others who will help you. Some friends are able to listen to whatever you want to say without judging you. They may also be a practical help.
- Don't be afraid to ask friends to help - they'll probably be glad to have something to do for you.
- When it's hard to leave the house or you live far from support, online forums are a good way to connect with others. See www.cancerconnections.com.au.
If you don't have support from friends or family, volunteers can visit you and help out with some tasks. Ask the hospital social worker or contact your local council to see what services are available.
You may not want to talk about your fears and concerns with family and friends, or you may feel you have no-one to talk to. Research has found that support from others helps people adjust to their situation.
- Join a support group, talk to a health professional or call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.
- Explore your feelings by writing in a journal or making something creative. This can help you release your emotions if you find it difficult to talk.