March 29, 2010

Tips for Dealing with Family When You’re Sick?

I’m glad to be celebrating Passover with my family and getting a reprieve from thinking about healthcare reform.  Waking up in my parents’ house got me thinking a lot about how much I love them and what it’s like dealing with family in general when you’re sick.

I’m going to brag: I’ve got the most close knit, loving, caring, nuclear and extended family I have ever seen outside of shows like Eight is Enough and the Waltons. Still, cancer put temporary stress on some of my family relationships.  I know scores of other young adult cancer patients who have dealt with family issues like: differing medical values, old feuds and hurt feelings rising to the surface, having someone by your side who loves you but is sometimes just a little too close, or handling completely dysfunctional parents or siblings in the midst of treatment.  Here are a few things that worked for me in navigating cancer and family matters:

1. Express how you are feeling and what you needed. This helps when your relatives are rational people (not everyone’s are!)

2. Don’t express to everyone how you are feeling and what you needed. Some relatives have made asinine comments to me and I let it go. You can pick your friends but not your relatives and I know when it’s futile to spend my limited energy trying to get someone to look outside of their bubble into my world. Emotional walls and superficial conversations are sometimes great devices. And remember, just because a family member offers to help you out doesn’t mean you have to accept it.

3. Arrange for alone time. I was damn grateful for the love and support I had, yet I knew I would go stir crazy without a little time to myself in my tiny studio apartment. If your family is from out of town, ask your friends to take them out to a movie or to dinner so you can get some space.  Chances are your family members need a break too.

4. Bring in outsiders. During my first treatment it was just me and my mom. The second time around we mixed it up with my aunt and dad coming out too.  It was great to have friends stop over to be with all of us and to have my Rabbi drop in too.  There was a lot of nervous energy flying around and we loved an outsider to come and divert our attention.

Has illness impacted your relationships with family members? What tips do you have to add to my list of how to manage family relationships during illness?

Read Everything Changes: The Insider’s Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s  to learn how and why Seth successfully asked a sibling instead of his parents to come take care of him.

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