How do you support a loved one who has been given a terminal cancer diagnosis? How do you process your own fear, grief, confusion, and disappointment while trying to stay strong for the person you love, the person you know you will lose?
I have walked this journey. It is was one of the hardest experiences of my life. My loved one was diagnosed with lung cancer that had metastasized from the breast. She had seemingly beat cancer six years prior, but here it was.
If you have experienced or supported someone who has been diagnosed with cancer you know that the experience is quick, jolting, and flat out confusing. Diagnosis is given, referrals are made and you and your family have to make choices, hard ones. In our case, we chose the surgical option, which didn’t work.
The next step was chemo, which didn’t work. After round one of chemo, cancer had not only not responded but had spread to the liver and femur. Next up, was a study trial at MD Anderson. Weekly flights to Houston, where we worked with what I consider to be some of the kindest people on the face of this earth. The trial was hard, we found ourselves wondering if the treatment was worse than the disease, but we had to try. Three months later we sat in a sterile room where we were told there were no other options. It’s time to go home and contact hospice. While many doctors are hesitant to give a timeline, we were told three months to ten months, very few with this presentation of cancer last over a year.
After fighting so hard for months and months, to be told to stop the fight was incredibly difficult to absorb. How do we stop fighting? So many questions were swirling through our minds. What do we do now? Does she want to talk about it? What should I say? How do I support her best while grappling with my gut-wrenching fear and disappointment?
How to Support Your Loved One
- Take time to explore your own feelings. Find someone to talk to about the grief, fear and disappointment you are experiencing. It is easy to feel like your emotions aren’t warranted because you haven’t been given the terminal diagnosis. The truth is, processing your own grief and trauma over the terminal cancer diagnosis will allow you to show up for your loved one in a deeper way.
- Listen to your loved one. Often, we feel we need to lead the conversation in a certain way to make the people we love feel better. What your loved one needs is someone to listen. They may or may not want to talk about it. It may surprise some to learn that many terminal cancer patients don’t want to talk about the cancer, don’t want to talk about the end. They have been through a roller coaster of treatments, side effects, scans and all of the unknowns and they just want to return to themselves.
- Accept that you can’t fix this. This is a tough one. The main thing we want to do is make it better. You can’t make it better. By accepting that this is the situation you can relax around your loved one. Cook foods, bring flowers, pull out photo albums or just hang out and watch tv with them. Take it moment by moment.
If you are reading this you are likely facing one of the hardest parts of life. Know this, you are not alone. It helps to talk to someone. I work with cancer patients and their families as they navigate the emotional rollercoaster of cancer. Contact Me today if you are in the state of Colorado and would like to set up a session. If you are outside Colorado visit Psychology Today to find a counselor to help you through this journey.