- How do you talk to someone who has cancer?
- About cancer
- Hearing the news
- Ways of coping
- Living with cancer
- Sources of support
- Concern for the family and caregivers
- Help and information
- If your loved one decides to stop getting treatment
- If your loved one refuses cancer treatment
- Facing the final stage of life
- Summing up: Talking to the person with cancer
- To learn more
Ways of coping
During their illness, people with cancer may express anger and frustration to those around them. This can upset family members and friends. It may help to remember that people often displace their feelings onto those close to them. They do this because the people closest to them are safe outlets. They know you will still be there for them, even if they behave badly or create tension.
Often, the person is really frustrated and angry about the cancer and the losses it brings, but this can be hard to put into words. So the person with cancer may take out angry feelings on family, friends, or anyone who happens to be around at the time.
Some people with cancer may act like children and become needy during illness. It can be very hard for an adult child to see a parent act this way. Try to understand that this is one way of acting out feelings of helplessness or weakness. These are normal feelings to have during a cancer illness.
Though the disease may limit their ability to do some things, it’s usually best for the person with cancer to keep living as normally as possible. Continuing to be a responsible adult can give the person with cancer a sense of meaning, confidence, and control. Giving in to feelings of dependence may make the person with cancer feel even more helpless and more like a victim. Sometimes we feel so sorry for people with cancer that we may try to overprotect them, but in the long run that probably isn’t helpful.
The cancer diagnosis and treatment phase is usually an anxious time for people. There’s fear about the many changes that come with cancer—money and job changes, body changes, and even changes in personal relationships. Because they have so much anxiety in their lives, some people with cancer may seem upset or frightened for no reason that you can see. Sometimes this anxiety may come across as harshness or meanness. You may find that you have fights when you only want to be supportive.
Try to not react emotionally to this type of attitude. Understand that it will likely last only a short time, and it comes from all of the fear and anxiety that is part of having and dealing with cancer. During this time, you will need to overlook some of this type of behavior and be ready to offer extra forgiveness, understanding, and support. Try to put yourself in the patient’s shoes. Think about how scared you would be if this were happening to you. This can help you to let go of minor arguments and troubles and move on.
The “blame game”
Sometimes people with cancer blame themselves for getting the disease because of something they did or did not do. As a friend or family member, you may also feel guilty and express this by changing the way you act toward the person with cancer. Other family members may have these same guilty feelings, too. You may even try to make up for what you see as your past failures.
Blaming yourself and each other can be barriers to a healthy relationship. Try not to play the “blame game.” Encourage your loved ones and the patient not to blame themselves for what’s going on. Moving forward is the only option. If you feel guilty as a friend or loved one, it’s OK to express your regrets, apologize, and move on, too. Try not to live in the past, but focus on a hopeful future.
Last Medical Review: 01/10/2013
Last Revised: 02/20/2014