Keeping a family strong through cancer

The holiday season generally brings to mind memories and images of spending time with your family and friends while you carry out your yearly traditions. However, for someone dealing with a cancer diagnosis and cancer treatments, the holidays can take on a different perspective. No matter the time of year, cancer is not only stressful on the patient, but also very stressful on family and loved ones. Psychologist, physical therapist, and bestselling author, Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, witnesses first hand how cancer affects patients and their families emotionally. Here are five tips from Dr. Lombardo to help families stay strong when someone is fighting cancer:

  • Take care of the basics: Make sure everyone is getting the nutrition, sleep and activity they need in order to optimize their health. Worry and the demands of multiple appointments often result in many of my clients grabbing food on the go (and hospital food is notorious for being unhealthy!) as well as not getting the sleep they need. These may seem like a luxury you cannot afford, but in reality they will help you be stronger physically and emotionally.
  • Focus on Fun: Sure, cancer is a serious matter. Remember, though, that you don’t have to be serious all of the time. Look for fun activities to do as a family: playing board games, engaging in a friendly game of Wii, watching movies, sitting around a fireplace chatting, making sundaes together. This will help you feel closer.
  • Talk it out: In addition to having fun, you also want to set aside time to talk about what is going on. Make sure this is a time when you have more than 30 minutes of uninterrupted time (no TV or cell phones). Give everyone permission to ask questions and voice their concerns. If young children are part of the family, you may want to have a separate discussion with them. The purpose of this is to (1) express emotions, (2) get more information about how everyone is feeling and (3) come up with a plan as a family on how to deal with specific issues. And make sure the lines of communication stay open on a regular basis.
  • Address your stress in healthy ways: As a family, look for ways to reduce your stress that are healthy and not destructive. While enjoying cookies and milk is fine, overindulging on food as a means of therapy is not very helpful. One of the best things a family can do to reduce stress is exercise. So, go for a walk, ride your bikes, play a sport or even put on some music and dance around the house. Research shows that exercise reduces stress. And when stress levels are better controlled, you feel less helpless and closer to loved ones.
  • Continue on with a comfortable routine: Look for ways you can keep up at least some aspects of your “normal” day. This will vary from family to family. For example, one family with whom I worked used to love to watch a specific TV show together every week. While their father (who had cancer) was sometimes sleeping when it was on, they taped it and waited until everyone was together in order to watch it.

Taking steps to stay strong as a whole family will help everyone involved better deal with what a cancer diagnosis can bring.

About the author:
Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., is a psychologist, physical therapist, and author of the bestselling book “A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness.” She is a media go-to person with interviews by various national media outlets including The Today Show, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, WSJ, Forbes, Woman’s Day, Glamour, Self, Woman’s World, Health and Cosmopolitan. For more information and to learn how Elizabeth can help you, go to A Happy You.