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3 Things to Remember When a Loved One Has Cancer

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When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, everything changes. These changes can create such a whirlwind, we might no longer know which way to turn.

There is no 12-step program or list of bullet points to “fix” the journey of a loved one with cancer. However, in my experience of walking alongside a dad who endured multiple rounds of lymphoma cancer, three thoughts stand out that helped.

Fight Cancer Together: When I first discovered my father had cancer, our family of five wasn’t sure what to do. My father said he was going to fight this cancer and beat it. His confidence, even if he may have been faking it, was enough to encourage us to join him in this. We promised to fight his lymphoma cancer together.

For my mom, this meant working more hours and becoming an expert at medical bills and treatment options. For me, my sister, and brother, it meant setting an alarm, making our own breakfast, packing our own lunch, and getting to school and back on our own. If Mom had to work and Dad couldn’t get out of bed, we could at least pitch in and care for ourselves the best we could. We couldn’t fix his cancer, but we were determined to fight it.

Speak to the Person, Not the Pain: When a person experiences the pain of cancer, the pain can become a source for either lashing out at others or withdrawing into silence. In our family, there were times my father would unleash an angry tirade of words, followed by, “I’m sorry, I’m just in a lot of pain right now.” At other times, he would rest in bed for hours while we wondered if he was upset with something we did. We would later discover a new medicine or the aftermath of a treatment had simply wiped him out.

When a person is in pain, remember the person. Your loved one is hurting. It is easy to feel the sting of hurtful words or the ache of long silences. However, the best response is steadfast loyalty and love. When the pain subsides and your loved one “reappears,” you’ll be glad you didn’t return with painful words in response.

They’re Not Gone Yet: The sadness associated with a loved one’s cancer diagnosis can sometimes lead to acting like the person is already gone. But this is something we would do well to resist.

No one knows if their loved one will be gone tomorrow or recover and live several more years. One of my greatest regrets regarding my dad’s battle with cancer is how many times I simply functioned with my daily life as if he did not have cancer and nothing was wrong. It was easier to detach than to experience the daily pain of wondering if my parent would be alive when I returned home from school that day.

Cancer is never easy, but it is better when we fight it together, remember the person experiencing the pain, and acknowledge the ups and downs of the journey to their fullest. Regardless of the outcome, I don’t believe we’ll ever regret walking through the cancer journey with those closest to us.

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Originally published: July 13, 2017
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