Responding When Your Relative is Diagnosed with Cancer

Responding When Your Relative is Diagnosed with Cancer_0325_KF_MW (1).docx A special thank you to Kaitlyn Teabo of the Mesothelioma Center for writing this guest blog for my site.

When a family member is diagnosed with cancer, it can be hard to initially handle. It is common and natural for you both to feel overwhelmed, scared, angry, sad and other emotions all at once. This compilation of emotions can make knowing exactly how to react to the diagnosis that much harder.

If you want to help, but you’re not sure how, here are some ways you can make the process easier for your relative and yourself: 

  • Listen. People process issues like a cancer diagnosis by talking about it. Show that you are listening by occasionally paraphrasing what your relative said and asking if that is what they meant. Unless asked, in the early stages of the diagnosis don’t offer advice. Your ears are worth more than anything at this point of the journey. The doctor will help your loved one and yourself through the process, discuss their prognosis, and help find the best treatment centers in your area.
  • Tell Your Relative You Love Them. Even if you think it is implied, hearing that someone loves them can help with feelings of depression and isolation, which are common after a diagnosis. Show affection when you can, this effort can have a huge impact on the coping process.
  • Don’t Compare. Sometimes when someone is going through a similar experience as you or someone you know, it may be easy to bring those experiences into conversation. But not all cancer experiences are the same, which is why you shouldn’t compare your friend’s mom’s cancer to your relative’s cancer.
  • Help Without Being Asked. Some cancer patients don’t like to admit they need help and will neglect to ask when it is necessary. Little gestures can often make the biggest difference. Make your relative’s favorite meal or dessert and stick it in their fridge. Help with the laundry and housework. Drive them to appointments or do daily errands.
  • Provide Comic Relief When Necessary. Yes, this can be a trying time for your relative and other members of the family and close friends, but it is also important to remember to laugh. Be careful not to offend your loved one, and only provide humor when it is appropriate. Remember to stay sensitive when they are grieving and offer a chance to laugh when they could use the reminder. Humor can be a great form of medication and may offer a way of healing.

As each diagnosis and each person affected by cancer is different, the ways to help your relative overcome the disease may also differ. These tips serve as a helpful guide, but you are ultimately the best judge on how to respond and act around your loved one. The most important thing is to just be there for them while providing support.

Author bio: Kaitlyn Teabo is a writer for The Mesothelioma Center. She combines her interests in writing, cancer research and emerging scientific technology to educate the mesothelioma community about asbestos and its related diseases.

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Learning to be Thankful After Cancer

Cameron, Lily and Heather

Cameron, Lily and Heather

I am thrilled to introduce to you my very first guest blogger; Cameron Von St. James, who is pictured here with his wife Heather and their daughter Lily. Thank you Cameron for sharing your story of hope and inspiration with us.

Our holidays have always centered around family traditions and celebration of gratitude. However, seven years ago at the start of the holiday season, I felt that I had little to be thankful for.

In August of 2005, our daughter, Lily was born. We were looking forward to celebrating her first Christmas as a family of three, and my wife, Heather and I talked endlessly about our hopes and plans for our daughter’s first Christmas. However, in an instant all of our excitement and happiness was torn away. My wife was diagnosed with cancer, just three days before Thanksgiving.

Lily was just three months old when Heather learned that she had malignant pleural mesothelioma, a rare and very deadly form of cancer. We went from planning her first holiday experiences with family, friends and Santa, to medical options for fighting cancer. I was so angry that this was happening to my family, and I was terrified at what might happen. I learned quickly what mesothelioma was and what the chances were of survival. I did my best to be positive, but somehow all I could picture was the worst-case scenario; me as a widower with a daughter who would never really know her mother.  I truly felt in those moments that I had nothing to be thankful for.

Cameron and Lily

Cameron and Lily

Despite our fears in the next few days, we still had a Thanksgiving dinner. Heather’s family had flown in to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. Heather would start treatment in Boston soon, so it was really one of the last times for us to all be together. There was something else that we had to discuss. It was one of worst conversations since learning that Heather had mesothelioma. After dinner, we sat with Heather’s parents and talked about our finances, including all of our financial assets, debts, what we could liquidate and how to pay for child care and Heather’s treatment. Heather and I both worked, but money was already tight and with expensive travel and treatment looming, along with the fact that we would be reduced to one income when Heather started treatment, we were in financial trouble.  I was embarrassed and mortified to have to have this conversation with my family, and it would be years before I could look back on it with anything but shame.

Now, I realize how mistaken I was back then to view this time in the way that I did. I realize now how very lucky I was to be surrounded by people who cared about my family, who were willing to drop everything to be by our sides and make incredible sacrifices to ensure our well-being. The people in our lives really came through for our family and gave whatever they could to help us. While mesothelioma had devastated us, it hadn’t completely shattered what we always had together and it made us pull together even more that Christmas.

Heather, Lily and Cameron

Heather, Lily and Cameron

This holiday, I want to thank every single person who showed their kindness and support for my family. The love of my family and friends truly allowed us to celebrate a special time of year together. We now have a healthy little girl and more time to make many new memories and traditions around Christmas.  Thanks in large part to the love and support of our family and friends, we were able to make it through Heather’s treatment, and she beat her cancer. Mesothelioma has not been a part of our lives for over six years now, and we’ve been able to share many Christmas’ together with Lily.  We hope that our story can be a source of hope and inspiration to all those currently battling cancer this holiday season.