Tips to Help Families Cope When Mom Has Cancer

Because everyone is unique, each child or spouse may react and cope differently when a mother or wife is battling cancer. Counseling experts offer the following suggestions for those living with cancer in their family:

• Realize that there is no “quick fix” for cancer. This is especially hard for men, who by nature, tend to be solution-oriented. It’s important to understand that cancer is a process that requires time, patience and understanding. Family members should allow the person with cancer to express her concerns and feelings throughout the process. Try to avoid judging or giving advice unless asked.

• Share your emotions and cry if you need to. Cancer is scary. Family members, regardless of gender or age, should know that is normal and healthy to cry, or to show fear, sadness or disappointment. These are not sign of weakness.

• Realize that breast cancer is no one’s fault. Young children may believe they have a direct impact on everything that happens around them. They may feel responsible for their mother’s cancer or believe that her illness is a punishment for previous bad behavior. Adults should assure children that cancer is not their fault.

Older children, teenagers, and even adult children, may feel anger or frustration toward their mother, believing that she caused the cancer by not taking better care of herself. Unfortunately, patients sometimes believe this, too. Women who did not do monthly self-exams or have regular mammograms may feel responsible or somehow deserving of the disease. This, according to cancer counselors, is one of the most destructive mind sets a child or patient can have.

• Seek support. Don’t try to go it alone. In many cases, families may be at a total loss when Mom has cancer, not knowing what to do or how to feel. Children see their mothers as providers and the “glue” that holds their family together. In small families, particularly in single-parent households, mothers are often their children’s main source of emotional, physical and financial support. Adults should encourage and help children build other support systems and seek the company and support of relatives, friends, teachers and other trusted adults. Professional counseling and support groups can help.

• Love each other, and live in the moment. Focus on helping and appreciating one another. Make time to talk, laugh and reminisce. Demonstrate affection through words and actions. Even when a hospital stay causes a physical separation, families can still feel close by sharing phone calls, taped messages, letters, cards, drawings, photos and other tokens of affection.

– Jessica Rush