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Impact on family

Cancer does not only affect the person with the disease. It also affects his or her family in many ways. Some challenges include:

  • Communication: some families may find it hard to talk about cancer (see next section for more information).
  • Roles and responsibilities: Roles and responsibilities in the household may change. Learn to accept help. Besides accepting help from people close to you, consider hiring paid help to lighten your burden. Accepting and receiving help is not a sign of weakness. It is a reminder of the love and care our loved ones have for us in times of need.
  • Money matters: Cancer treatments can take a huge toll on the family finances. (See Cancer and Finances for more information).

Communication with family members

Not everyone deals with cancer in the same way. Maintaining open and honest communication is important in fostering strong relationships with your loved ones, and developing a clear plan/ expectations will help prevent unnecessary tension. Take the initiative to let your family members know how you feel. Let them know too, if you are not ready to talk about certain aspects of your illness. If you have trouble talking about cancer with your family, consider getting help from your family friend, doctor, nurse, counsellor or even a religious leader to work through communications issues.

Spouses/ life partners

Maintaining two-way communication is important. Expressing your needs clearly can help avoid misunderstanding and conflict. You may not like discussing negative emotions, but hiding how you feel will prevent your spouse from offering that extra support and reassurance you need on your cancer journey.

Elderly/ Parents
It is not unusual for people to be reluctant to share their diagnosis and condition with their elderly parents, for fear of how it may affect them. Consider these points when telling your aged parents about your cancer diagnosis: their state of health, if they can cope with the news, if you are able to enlist help from a family member or friend when you break the news to them. It is important to have open communication with the elderly so they can clarify their questions and doubts, and express their feelings. The elderly are able to notice when something is amiss and not keeping them in the know may result in more harm than good. It may be helpful to prepare them by letting them know that you will be sharing something that may be potentially difficult to hear, before sharing it with them slowly and gently. Give them adequate time to absorb each piece of information. If you are in charge of your aged parents’ medical appointments or day-to-day living, you may now need to seek help with their care.

Studies have shown that children as young as 18 months old begin to understand the world around them. Children can sense your worries and become more frightened if they are not given information. In addition, trust may be broken if they hear about your cancer diagnosis from another person. Some may think that something they did might have caused the parent to be ill. It is better that they learn about the situation from you.

When talking to your children about cancer, cover the following basics: ask the child what he/she knows about cancer, give simple information about the type of cancer, where the cancer is in the body, what will happen with treatment, how their lives are expected to be changed by cancer and its treatment. Tell it in a way that the child is able to understand it.

See NCCS’ write up on https://www.nccs.com.sg/patient-care/Pages/Providing-care-when-cancer-does-not-go-away.aspx for more information on areas to be mindful of in communicating with children about cancer, how to respond to questions about dying and things to look out for in children after disclosing your cancer diagnosis.

Please inform your cancer care team if you notice anything amiss in your children’s behavior, or if you feel that it is difficult for you or your caregiver to speak to the children about cancer. Sometimes children, especially teenagers, may find it easier to open up to an adult who is not their parent.