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Family-Focused Care: How to Talk About Breast Cancer with Your Loved Ones

October 19, 2021

A diagnosis, treatment plan, or return of breast cancer can impact all aspects of your life. As you adjust to the physical, emotional, and psychological changes that come with cancer, you also must decide when and how to tell your family, friends, and broader support system.

This is a deeply personal decision, and though you may not know what to say, communicating about your breast cancer can be beneficial for your health. According to an American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine study, connections “help improve the life and health of cancer patients”–making it all the more important to nurture those connections.

Consider these suggestions to start and continue conversations about your breast cancer journey, and how you can ask for help when you need it.

How to Talk to Family

Will your family react with shock, disbelief, fear, or even anger? You may feel nervous, but it’s important to understand your family is reacting to the information about your health, not you. Here are tips to guide you through discussing breast cancer with your family:

  • Plan ahead. Prepare for tough conversations by having them in a place that’s comfortable for you, at a time when you’re not likely to be interrupted. Anticipate questions or reactions that might upset you and plan responses for them ahead of time.
  • Set boundaries. Be as open as you’d like when discussing your diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. If something makes you uncomfortable, such as questions about your mastectomy, respond with, “I’m not ready to talk about that right now.”
  • Lean on a good listener. Ask a close family member or friend if they have a few minutes to discuss how you’re feeling or consider talking to a therapist. It’s important to let someone know if you’re feeling negative, as a study in the oncology journal Cancer found mortality rates are 26 times higher in female breast cancer patients with symptoms of depression.

How to Talk to Children

Speaking to children about cancer can be hard, no matter their age. You may want to have separate discussions with adults and with children in your family. Consider these points when talking with young ones:

  • Keep age in mind. Base discussions with children on their age or level of maturity. You know your child best–some may act out of character and others may carry on as normally as possible–and remember to remind them they are loved and cared for.
  • Be honest. You may feel hiding the truth guards children from the harsh realities of having a parent or loved one with cancer, but they’re perhaps more perceptive than you think. Be open and ensure children have enough time to ask questions and express their feelings.
  • Offer support. Children see the world as it relates to them. Consider enrolling your children in counseling or a support group, as it can be helpful for them to talk to others who can empathize with their situation.

How to Ask for Help

Cancer can be physically exhausting and emotionally draining. You may find it difficult to keep pace with your daily, pre-cancer routine. So, how can you ask for help when your family’s “typical” roles and responsibilities change due to breast cancer?

  • Let them help you. It can be tough to realize and accept that you need help. But remember, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Doing so tells others what you need to feel as strong and as comfortable as you can during your breast cancer journey.
  • Be specific. As you manage medication, surgery, stress, or side effects of breast cancer–like fatigue, nausea, or loss of appetite–ask if others can take care of specific tasks, like picking up your medication from the pharmacy or other simple errands.
  • Connect through communities. Keep family and others updated on your breast cancer experience and allow them to support you through resources like Careopolis. Careopolis is an online, invitation-only, mobile-friendly “caring community” where patients can easily connect with family and friends.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.