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How to Cope with a Family Member's Cancer Diagnosis

Learning that a loved one has cancer is devastating. But it's important that you remain strong so you can support them through their treatment.


  • Step 1: Keep things simple Keep your reaction simple: tell them you love them and that you'll help them through this. Don't admonish them to "stay positive" or patronize them by downplaying a dire prognosis.
  • Step 2: Expect changes Be prepared for personality changes: Many cancer patients go through periods of anger and withdrawal, and experience mood swings. Try not to take it personally if they lash out at you
  • Step 3: Do some research Research their illness so you have a better understanding of what to expect. Encourage them to take a holistic approach to their healing by eating a healthy diet, learning ways to manage their stress, and doing whatever exercise they can manage -- in addition to their medical treatment.
  • TIP: One study showed that chemotherapy patients who combined resistance training and aerobics with relaxation techniques were likely to have less fatigue and feel better in general.
  • Step 4: Talk about it Look for a balance between avoiding reality and dwelling on the diagnosis. Don't be afraid to tell the cancer sufferer what you're feeling, and encourage them to do the same. One study found that cancer patients and family members who bottled things up in an attempt to spare each other's feelings ended up feeling isolated.
  • Step 5: Keep things as normal as possible Try to stick to established family routines as much as possible. A study of families living with a cancer diagnosis found that maintaining routines helped families cope with the situation.
  • Step 6: Take care of yourself Take care of yourself, especially if you are the primary caregiver. Stay connected with your friends, get loved ones to pitch in so you get regular breaks, and eat well. Consider individual counseling, joining a support group, or seeking solace in your faith community. The best way you can help your family member is to keep yourself mentally and physically sound.
  • FACT: Cancer patients who received massages from family members experienced a reduction in their stress, pain, fatigue, depression, and nausea.

You Will Need

  • Understanding
  • Openness
  • Normalcy
  • Self-care

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