How Can You Help When a Family Member is Diagnosed?

02/23/2021 By Belle Jurgen

When we talk about cancer in families, the focus understandably tends to fall on the affected patient. As anyone who has dealt with this situation understands though, this kind of diagnosis is very difficult for the rest of the family as well. Cancer is tragic, stressful, and burdensome for entire networks — and that’s all on top of the fact that often enough, someone living with or caring for a new cancer patient often struggles to know how to act.

Specifically, we want to address one of the questions that most nags at family caregivers: What can you do to help when a family member is diagnosed with cancer?

Take Care of Your Own Emotions

When we ran a post about identifying what you need as a cancer patient, some of the best advice included concerned dealing with emotions. And this advice is appropriate for family caregivers as well. When you’re trying to help a family member who’s been diagnosed, your own emotional outlook can become something of an afterthought. In fact, you may even consciously feel that worrying about your own feelings is somehow selfish. This is an understandable impulse, but the truth is that it’s not helping anybody — including the family member who’s been diagnosed.

One of the most important things to do in this situation is to tend to your own emotions. You will have complicated feelings to sort through as well, and by addressing them head-on you’ll be in a better place to support your family member.

Be Honest & Curious

Another common issue you may experience when you’re new to a caregiving role is that you might simply not know what to say to your loved one. Questions will feel inappropriate, support may feel inadequate, and you’ll find yourself caught between wanting to discuss the illness and thinking you should talk about anything but.

These are complicated problems to work through, and every social dynamic is different. But in general terms, the best approach is to be honest about your own uncertainty, and curious in the sense that you can ask what the patient is feeling rather than make assumptions. People experiencing serious health issues quickly become used to others try to project control and understanding. But showing a bit of vulnerability on your own side of things can actually be more helpful.

Get in Touch with the Right Specialist

You don’t need to take on caregiving alone. Getting in touch with the right specialist whether for practical advice or for actual hands-on help can make this task much easier. Nowadays, given the rapid advancement of healthcare, there are specialist caregivers for virtually any major illness or medical situation. In fact, registered nurses who are pursuing nursing careers in specific areas of care such as oncology and mental health have become highly in-demand. And by getting in touch with these specialists yourself, you can leverage the advanced knowledge they have about giving diagnosed family members the best possible bedside care.

Accept Some Stress & Frustration

This final suggestion goes hand-in-hand with the notion of accepting and managing your own emotions with regard to the situation at hand. But it’s also important to recognize that caring for an ill family member can lead to a great deal of stress and frustration.

There have been public policy studies that suggest approximately $470 billion in unpaid assistance that is provided by family caregivers every year. And when you put that kind of number on it, you can understand clearly that the role you may find yourself in goes well beyond being a supportive family member. Caregiving is a job — one without tangible or guaranteed rewards, and one that you aren’t allowed specific time for. This is a situation that would stress out and aggravate anyone — which means that feeling stress and frustration is ordinary. Accepting these feelings will help you to remain confident in your role as a caregiver, and in your ability to help as best you can.

Specially written for

by Belle Jurgen

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