Good communication and support are keys to successful relationships with our family and friends.
Click the boxes below to learn more about communicating, finding support and helping children understand.
We provide links to relevant articles and helpful websites below to help you keep the lines of communication open and help you build a strong support system.
“We are healed of a suffering only by expressing it to the full.” – Marcel Proust
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When some people won’t even say the word “cancer,” how can you begin to talk about it – how it makes you feel, what your fears are, how your life has completely changed? Here are some general guidelines. It’s best to be honest. Be bold and specific, when possible. Say the words out loud that are hard to say. Use “I” statements to express how you feel (for example, “I’m afraid to say the word cancer because it seems to make you upset”). Shyness, not knowing what to say, and fear are all common reactions when dealing with metastatic cancer. You can and should revisit difficult topics. Since well over 60% of our communicating is non-verbal, take special note of your body language, eye contact, and what words and topics you avoid when you talk about metastatic cancer. Also, take time to listen, not just talk.
Children are smarter that adults think. They can tell when parents are fearful, and they will fill in the gaps often with wrong information (such as blaming themselves for their parents’ sickness). As you talk with them, ask them to repeat what you’ve said in their own words to correct any misinformation. Watch how they play for clues about how they’re understanding cancer.
Keep in mind the relationship you have with the person – you might share different information with your partner vs. a more distant friend. Some people will surprise you at how well they can listen. And with others, you may not want to waste your energy. Retelling the details of your treatment can be draining and depressing. Appoint someone to communicate with others, or use a web site, like carepages.com to get the information out. Above all else, don’t give up. We all make mistakes and fumble around. Keep trying! These resources have more advice.
- “Both Sides Now,” Kathleen Neal
- “Communication in Cancer Care,” National Cancer Institute
- “Doctor, Can We Talk?: Tips for Communicating with Your Health Care Team,” CancerCare
- “How Do I Talk to People About My Diagnosis?” American Cancer Society
“I have learned two lessons in my life: first, there are no sufficient literary, psychological, or historical answers to human tragedy, only moral ones. Second, just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.” – Elie Wiesel
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People need support. Sometimes you can find this support by talking to your family and friends. Other times, you may still feel isolated and want to know, “Is anyone else going through this?” Support groups give you a chance to meet people who are experiencing many of the same things you are. To find in-person support groups, ask your doctor, nurse, hospital social worker, or religious institute. The Wellness Community and Gilda’s Club are organizations that offer support groups in many major U.S. cities. Online support groups may be more convenient. Whichever you pick, try it a few times. It can take practice to learn how the group process works. You might also consider being matched to a volunteer who has a similar diagnosis to yours through an organization like Cancer Hope Network. The links below help you make the right support decision for you.
Many people find great support from animals, especially cats and dogs. Support can also be found from your faith community and other places you might not even suspect. Often, it means becoming more assertive and asking for what you want.
- “10 Ways to Manage Fear,” breastcancer.org
- “Coping with Advanced Cancer,” National Cancer Institute
- “Dating After Cancer,” Don Vaughn
- “Finding Support Systems for People With Cancer,” National Comprehensive Cancer Network
- “Finding Support When the Diagnosis is Metastatic Cancer,” OncoLink
- “How to Find a Support Group,” American Association for Cancer Research
- “Taking Time: Support for People with Cancer,” National Cancer Institute
- “‘You Look Great’ and Other Lies,” Bruce Feiler
- Association of Cancer Online Resources (ACOR)
- Cancer Hope Network
- Cancer Support Community’s Online Support Groups
- LiveSTRONG One-on-One Support (855) 220-7777
- Living Room: Your Online Support Community
- MetaCancer’s Mosaic Online Community
- R.A. Bloch Cancer Foundation & Cancer Hotline (800) 433-0464
- Sharsheret: Your Jewish Community Facing Breast Cancer
Find Live Support Groups
The Cancer Support Community provides a continuous, weekly, online support group for people with metastatic cancer.
Visit The Cancer Support Community website and register for a support group.
The Wellness Community is an international non-profit organization dedicated to providing support, education and hope for all people affected by cancer — at no cost. Online Support Groups in The Virtual Wellness Community are free, password-protected, weekly groups led by trained professionals. The Metastatic Support Group, provided by The Wellness Community, meets weekly for ninety-minute sessions. This group is on-going and open for new members at any time, subject to availability.
By clicking the above link or otherwise navigating to The Wellness Community website, you acknowledge that the Live Support option is not offered, operated, or controlled by The MetaCancer Foundation. You hereby agree to hold The MetaCancer Foundation harmless from any claims in connection with your use of The Wellness Community website.
Helping Children Understand
“They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” – Carl W. Buechner
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“How will I tell my children?” may be a parent’s first thought upon learning he or she has cancer. While some parents may be tempted to put off a difficult discussion, children can sense that something is wrong, and effective communication between parents and children can decrease the level of anxiety experienced by children.
When informing a child of a parent’s diagnosis of cancer, it is best to speak to the child one-on-one so the child feels free to express emotions and ask questions. It is important to be honest and precise when sharing information. Do not hesitate to use the word “cancer,” as it is important that the child hears the diagnosis directly from you. Be sure to tailor the information to your child’s level of development (information to assist you is listed below). Of primary importance is making sure children do not feel as if they caused the cancer. Since children will become aware of physical symptoms such as nausea, hair loss and fatigue, it will be helpful to explain that the symptoms are due to treatment which is designed to make the parent better. It may be helpful to inform school personnel proactively so they can provide support and inform you if your child is having difficulties at school. For instance, young children often manifest anxiety or depression somatically, such as stomachaches or headaches, so it may be helpful to communicate with the school nurse. Older children living away from home should be consulted regarding their preferred method of communicating cancer-related information.
Above all, it is important to understand and acknowledge that children may express both positive and negative emotions, and to help children understand that their emotions may change over time. Although it is natural to worry about how a child will fare while or after a parent is in treatment for cancer, it may be reassuring to know that children of cancer patients are not at a higher risk than their peers of being diagnosed with a mental health disorder, such as depression and anxiety.
Learning that your cancer has recurred or is in an advanced stage can be sad and overwhelming for you and your family. You may not want to tell your children because you want to protect them. Keeping this information secret will be difficult; children will sense that something is wrong and imagine the worst.
Ask your children what they remember about your cancer diagnosis and previous treatment. Make sure to correct any misinformation they have and add to what they were told. Providing every detail is not as important as letting your children know you can be trusted to let them know what’s happening. Explain that the cancer has now come back or has advanced and will need to be treated again with stronger medicines or other treatments. Knowing what is happening will help children feel included and less helpless.
- “Communicating with Children about Metastatic Breast Cancer,” Joan F. Hermann, LSW (Audio)
- “Explaining Cancer to Kids Requires Honesty,” WSCH-TV (Video)
- “Explaining Cancer to Young Children,” Peggy Rios, PhD
- “Living with Metastatic Breast Cancer: Talking to My Kids,” Laurie Kingston
- “Parents With Cancer: Millions of Patients Juggle Chemotherapy and Childrearing,” Courtney Hutchison & Jane E. Allen
Websites for Parents
- Advice for Parents with Cancer
- Children’s Treehouse Foundation
- Helping Children When a Family Member Has Cancer
- Helping Children and Youth Cope with Cancer
- Helping Teenagers When a Parent Has Cancer
- Helping Young Children Cope with Parental Cancer: Interactive Tools & Resource
- Providing a Guardian for Your Children
- Someone I Love is Sick: Helping Very Young Children Cope with Cancer in the Family
- Taking Time: Support for People with Cancer
- Talking with Your Children about Your Diagnosis and Treatment
Websites for Kids and Teens
- Camp Kesem: For Kids with a Parent Who Has (or Has Had) Cancer
- Group Loop
- Imerman Angels
- Kids Konnected: Helping Kids & Teens with a Parent with Cancer, or Have Lost a Parent to Cancer
- KidsCope: Helping Kids and Families Understand Cancer
- RipRap: For 12-16 Year Olds Who Have a Parent with Cancer
- When Your Parent Has Cancer: A Guide for Teens