In the wake of a cancer diagnosis, feelings like fear, anger, and frustration are common. However, the patient is not the only one suddenly overwhelmed with these emotions. Cancer, it seems, is a disease diagnosed to everyone close to the patient, as well.
“Being diagnosed with cancer doesn’t just affect the person with the disease, but everyone around them,” says Jessica Aguirre, currently fighting her third battle with cancer. “It was a complete shock to me and my family - I was a young, single mother of two boys who had everything going for me.”
These feelings of shock and fear are normal, according to Molly Tyler, Director of e+CancerHome at e+CancerCare.
“Being diagnosed with cancer doesn’t just affect the person with the disease, but everyone around them,” says Jessica Aguirre.
“The word “cancer” is scary, so hearing that triggers a natural reaction of fear and anxiety. It’s fear of the unknown, and fear of loss,” says Tyler.
That fear, however, is replaced with more positive emotions and feelings after a short time, says Tyler. Support and how the family can help are, usually, the family’s next focus points after the initial shock has passed. “We are a very proactive society in regards to cancer, so once the shock of the diagnosis has faded, it becomes about how the family can help,” she says.
Cancer, a Family Affair
Rudy Shur saw first hand how a family can come together and support their loved one in the face of cancer when his wife was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form called Anaplastic Thyroid Cancer (ATC) in 2007.
“As soon as my family was told about the cancer and how serious it is, we joined together to build a working team around my wife,” says Shur.
Shur’s son and daughter, as well as their spouses, all did research about the disease and the best medical professionals to handle it. Shur, who is a publisher of health titles, also called as many contacts as he could. Treating his wife’s disease, and as quickly as possible, became a family affair.
“When we went to visit doctors, my son, daughter and I were there with my wife,” he says. “At one time or another, we all provided some important fact or piece of information that helped us make better and more informed decisions about the course of treatments my wife had to undergo.”
Coming together as a family and doing their research, ultimately, helped save Shur’s wife who has been cancer-free for four years.
"Importance of the Little Things"
Aguirre also credits cancer for bringing her family closer together, citing, specifically, her relationship with her sister as one in which to two never really talked or spent time together. Her recent cancer re-diagnosis, however, has brought her sister closer to her both emotionally and geographically.
“My sister now lives 5 minutes away from me, and I see her everyday and talk to her several times a day. She truly is one of my closest friends,” says Aguirre. “When you are diagnosed, you understand the importance of little things, and you don't take anything for granted.”
New appreciation for people in one’s life, especially close family members, is a common, positive side effect of a cancer diagnosis. “Many times, [it] sheds light on what that person means to them, and puts their own lives in perspective, as well,” says Tyler.
Aguirre, a 29-year-old single mother of two, is fighting her third cancer diagnosis. Her breast cancer metastasized to her brain in May of this year.
Finding the Good Within the Bad
Also a mother of two, Christine Clifford was diagnosed in 1994. Her goals after her diagnosis were simple: to live long enough to see her sons graduate high school and to celebrate everyday she had together with her family.
To help deal with the heaviness of her situation and to make it easier on her sons, Clifford says she focused on finding the good within the bad. “I focused on the use of humor throughout my cancer experience. Humor is a great connector of people, and I wanted people and my family to be close to me as I went through my treatments,” she says.
The 18-plus-year survivor wrote the book, ‘Our Family Has Cancer, Too!’ with the help of her two sons (ages eight and ten at the time of her diagnosis). The book, full of cartoons, illustrates the family’s search for levity in such a serious situation.
Originally given 6 months to live, Clifford beat the disease that took her mother’s life and started the organization called ‘The Cancer Club,’ to help others find humor in their situation.
Coming together and moving forward as a family are important steps after the initial shock of a cancer diagnosis. From a negative situation can come multiple positive outcomes, such as a new outlook on life and a fresh appreciation for the people closest to a patient - their direct family.
“Someone recently told me, I'm just so sorry for all that you have had to go through. I looked at them and smiled and said: ‘Pease do not be sorry, I am so thankful for cancer. It has saved my family and we are closer than ever before, so I wouldn't change a thing,” says Aguirre.