1. Understanding Levels of Grief
There are multiple levels of grief and anger. These are going to vary developmentally and experientially across the family. The patient will be facing one set of issues, the spouse/partner one set, children are quite complicated as it depends on age - grown children who live outside the house are quite different than young children who will be dealing with very different issues. So a key is to work with the oncology team, which hopefully has a social worker to not just make this all about the person with cancer, but all members of the family and to ensure that you have access to referrals, support, and information that is appropriate at all levels of the family.
2. Be Organized
Medical appointments, records, insurance, medications require organization - and this may require assistance with housework, healthy members of the family ensuring that things are in their place and running smoothly.
3. Retain Some Normalcy
Don't turn the home into a satellite hospital -have dinner together, play board games, do the things you do together, and really bring some value to that time.
4. Turn to Spiritual Resources
Recognizing that every family relies on this differentially - some are nonbelievers, some will need their parish/temple/mosque community. If it feels ok - turn to leaders in your religious community as a family if that feels right.
5. Talk and Listen
Denial is a normal phase of mourning - but can be scary for those who do want to talk. It may feel hard, but give each other that time, and if needed bring in the professionals and turn to licensed mental health professionals who have expertise in working with patients with cancer and their families.
6. Keep Everyone In The Loop
This can be very important if a family is scattered across the country. Some families may do this via email, some families may do Skype calls together, some families may even have private websites to post test results to. Each family knows what is comfortable -but the less they have to hassle the patient but keep abreast, it may be helpful for all concerned, and address those feelings of helplessness that are all to common in family members of a person with cancer.
7. Choose a Family "Go-To"
Some families have that person who makes a good "spokesperson" and can stand the litany of questions, well wishes and insensitive comments. If outsiders know there is somewhere they can go to get information and offer their words, sometimes this can shield the family from lots of excess nonsense they don't want to deal with at that time.
Every family is different, and ultimately should be working with a social worker or other mental health worker that is typically part of a good oncology team to devise strategies that are best for them.
Dr. Ramani is a licensed clinical psychologist and Professor of Psychology. Drawing upon her years of clinical experience, graduate and undergraduate teaching, and published research - she is masterful at taking all things psychological and making them interesting and understandable for a wide variety of audiences. Her versatility makes her a useful presenter for audiences ranging from adolescents to professionals, laypeople to mental health professionals.