The words to say it: how to talk about cancer in the family



"Be clear about the things to say, the words will come"


A tumor distorts the life and projects of the person by questioning the vital balance and generating new conditions of life and experience. One of the critical aspects during the treatment process is that of addressing the topic of "cancer" with the family network. There are several aspects that can hinder communication when a family lives with cancer, because let's face it: cancer becomes the whole family! The difficulties can therefore be of a personal nature, fear or fear of making people suffer, wrong beliefs and associated with the idea of ​​death, feeling of not being able to bear the weight.

"I do not know what to say" is a very common phrase of people facing cancer or the disease of their loved ones. In these cases, communicating is often difficult and painful. We are frightened by the fear of speaking at the wrong time, the fear of saying the wrong sentence, the difficulty in finding words.

And how do you communicate the disease to the people you care about most at a time when you feel the need to scream out your pain and fears? How do you pronounce the word "tumor" if it reflects the weight of a sentence, so much so that one feels the need to veil it in the most varied forms: "Evil", "the thing", "the stain" ... The confusion it is such that it becomes paralyzing in front of the smallest children, how to say it so as not to frighten them?

Unfortunately there are no magic formulas that ensure "the right sentence" but also because there is no one sentence more correct than another. What matters is not just what we say but how we do it. As mentioned above there are no words or the right time. There is no time before or after that allows us to be ready, there may be a time ... and some small suggestions to indulge in it and mature it:

The difficulty lies in starting (Proverb.)

  • Create the moment and your own words, what everyone finds in his path with his own rhythms. There is no time when "it should happen" and the word "should be said" ... The secret is to start!
  • It is not necessary to inform in an exhaustive and detailed way, to allow yourself the opportunity to communicate "funnel" information, it helps not only those who have to give the news but also those who receive it, since it allows the assimilation and absorption of what has been communicated or learned.
  • With younger children, in addition to information in small doses, you can communicate with the help of a story or a tale, according to the age of the child. The children are thus helped to understand a delicate situation, through a way that is familiar to them together with the reference adult.
  • Speaking is the most immediate way we have to communicate, but let's remember that we can touch, embrace and even be silent ... Non-verbal communication is the privileged channel through which to convey not only the content but also the relationship component of the message (Watzlawich, Beavin and Jackson, 1971).
    Silence accompanied by body language, in fact, is often the best communication as it allows you to pause on a delicate situation without the need to fill it with words.
  • Authorizing oneself to live this moment as it comes, sharing one's emotions in this case, favors the creation of a space for discussion and dialogue where everyone can participate. Often we are afraid of “throwing up emotions” and we prefer a no better alternative: repress them. Getting excited or crying is not a sign of weaknessIndeed, emotions are part of the communicative and relational process and as such can act as a vehicle that facilitates communication itself. Getting excited in these cases means transporting and authentically transmitting even the most difficult of communications.
  • Remember that you don't have the answers to everything, answer when you can and authorize yourself to say "I don't know" when you don't have the answers. Often, especially with younger children, there is the fear that they may suffer and we tend to reassure them with desired answers. Let us remember that children have many resources and it is functional for everyone, young and old, to support oneself in uncertainty as it favors the process of adapting to a path that is unpredictable in itself.
  • When dealing with a sick family member, they may feel the need not to talk about it. It's important give it time needed, in this case you can simply postpone the fact that you are available if you feel the need to do so.
  • Being ready for the joke can often be difficult and out of place but a right dose of humor facilitates communication and relationships in various areas. Doing it with a person who is facing a disease, becomes useful to make him feel at ease but above all, if there is a need to be welcomed in those facing a tumor, it is to avoid making him feel sick.

The overprotective aspect is completely covered by affection and desire to help even if often with the best intentions counterproductive effects are obtained such as: the tendency to change the subject when they are the ones to take the initiative or give advice on how "they should" do for feel better.

Other times the sense of helplessness leads to help and facilitate one's loved one in all respects, eventually replacing himself. It is important to gradually promote the autonomy of the person, what he can do, let him do it and help him in adding small daily goals.

Wanting to help and facilitate loved ones who are suffering is a very noble feeling but we can promote their well-being in a functional way not by avoiding them but by creating small opportunities. A tumor changes the life of those involved in its various dimensions and not everything can resume being as "before" the disease, but there can be a different recovery, a new reality, new balances and new meanings.

In the face of such events, one is always unprepared but the only way to be dismayed is to act actively, to move from a reality that scares and suffers to a reality that is built and managed. (G. Nardone, 2014).

Dr. Lindita Prend (Official Psychotherapist of the Strategic Therapy Center)


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