One of the difficulties faced by carers is how to talk to their relative about the cancer. Likewise, the problem of how to communicate with relatives may also be bothering the person with the cancer. In truth, cancer remains a topic that many people find hard to broach and are awkward at discussing. There seems to be a ‘code’ that governs where and when the subject is introduced – for example, not in front of the person with the cancer and not with younger children. Carers and cancer patients sometimes find it easier to introduce the subject with professional people than with their own family; however, even doctors and nurses are not always comfortable answering questions and giving information.
Many carers express a desire to simply ‘talk to someone’ but often they don’t know where to start or even whether they ought to be discussing their relative’s illness. But talking can be of great ben¬efit, so if you dread the thought of talking about cancer try to overcome your reluctance and help each other to say what you each feel.
What can be gained by talking?
– Support for each other.
– Comfort and a sense of togetherness.
– Reduction of fear and isolation.
– Agreement on ground rules about behaviour and openness.
– A sense of perspective.
– Clarity and answers to questions.
– Regaining and/or retaining a sense of control.
– Sharing of information.
– Correction of myths.
– Finding solutions to problems.
The list could be longer – perhaps you and your relative can add some benefits that you have gained by talking about their cancer. If you need a listening ear from outside your immediate circle there are many other people and organisations to whom you can turn for support.
How to share feelings
There are no rules or easy answers that help deal with the topic to make everyone feel less uncomfortable.
– Behave in a sensitive and responsible manner, agreeing that matters spoken about privately remain confidential and details will only be passed on with express permission. For example, you could say ‘May I share this information with …?’
– Let your relative set the pace if this feels easier.
– Acknowledge open emotions and be supportive, but don’t attempt to stop the flow however upset the person seems to be.
– If you are having a bad day, try to express what the emotion feels like and why, for example ‘I feel low today because …’ is much easier to understand than a withdrawn manner.
– Expression of strong emotions is neither right nor wrong -being offered the opportunity is important.
– Give each other a chance to respond and time for non-verbal actions. A good hug or sitting in shared silence may be enough.
– Don’t be frightened of speaking about the past or the future.