Family Dynamics and Cancer

25 June 2018

Read full transcript

Experts interviewed:
Ray Araullo, oncology social worker
Cath Adams, clinical psychologist and psycho-oncologist

The thing about cancer is that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t just affect one person, the ripples of that diagnosis extend well into the family group. But are there things that people can do to manage the impact of cancer on the family and create a supportive environment? And what does the word “family” even mean in today’s world?

In this episode of The Thing About Cancer, Julie sits down with psychologist Cath Adams and oncology social worker Ray Araullo, to tackle these questions, and more.

– Cath Adams, clinical psychologist

Listen to Family Dynamics and Cancer now or find more episodes here.

Every family is unique and will react differently to a cancer diagnosis

All families are different. There may be parents, adult children, siblings, aunts, grandparents, step-children, etc. Each family has its own way of communicating and interacting with each other. And different family members often play set roles. After a cancer diagnosis, family roles may shift – for example, if you are a parent and you’re getting treatment, you might not be able to do the jobs you usually do, and the responsibilities might shift to your adult children.

– Matt Featherstone, diagnosed with prostate cancer

What are the things that can help family members cope?

Different families will find different things helpful. Some families will find it helpful to communicate openly with each other about what is happening and how family members are feeling. Other families will be stoic with each other, but debrief  with their friends.

How can we manage any conflicts that arise?

Difficulties and conflicts won’t go away – the stress of cancer can magnify them, so that sibling rivalry or parental conflict can get worse. It can be helpful to accept that the conflict exists and not try to fix it. Agreeing to place the focus onto the person with cancer, and what’s best for them, can help family members to come to a working arrangement.

– Ray Araullo, oncology social worker

What are some strategies that families might find helpful

Ray and Cath discuss a number of helpful things that families can do to help them navigate their way through  the impact of cancer and its treatment on the family:

  • getting the family together in a family conference mediated by a health professional can help families agree on decisions and mediate tricky family situations
  • sharing core support roles among family members can ensure that the person with cancer receives the necessary emotional and logistical support, while not overloading any one family member  – and, sometimes it’s enough for the person who has cancer to know that the support is there if needed, even though that family member isn’t doing any specific job now
  • sharing information openly amongst all family members – one of the best strategies is creating a clear channel of communication for the entire family, and making this a part of the family routine.

When your family is having trouble, seek support

There are a range of health professionals with expertise to provide support, including social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. As a starting point talk to the oncology social worker at your cancer centre. They can refer you to other services and sources of support.

Listen to Family Dynamics and Cancer now or find more episodes here.

Want more information or support? 

If you heard something mentioned in the podcast, you’ll find a link to it below. We’ve also added links to other sources of information and support.

From Cancer Council NSW

From other organisations

  • Coping within a family – the Canadian Cancer Society provides some helpful tips for families dealing with the impact of a cancer diagnosis
  • Carers NSW – provide information and services to carers in NSW