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Archive for August, 2009

@stopcancer on Twitter brought this article on the Telegraph website to my attention . It’s entitled ‘Marriage breakdown affects cancer survival chances’, and quotes research which shows that those going through a separation at the time of diagnosis have the lowest chance of survival over 5 or 10 years.
But that’s not what I find most interesting (although I like the fact that it is being recognised that those people may need extra support). What I love is the fact that people who are married have better survival rates. Better than all the other groups – widowed, divorced or those who have never been married. What does that mean? It means that if you are a spouse of someone who has cancer you’re making a difference. Why does marriage help? Your support and their relationship with you helps them.
So as a partner to someone who has cancer, remember that you’re making a difference. If you are not a partner, you can still make a difference by building a deeper relationship with that person. What are the features of a marriage relationship that you could offer from another connection? I believe one of the strongest factors is trust. In a successful marriage you trust the other person absolutely, and know they will always support you. To offer this level of support to a friend or other family member maybe you could let them know they can tell you anything and you will be there for them.
There is a level of extra responsibility for you, though. By providing that support, you will be calling more on your own resources. Perhaps future research will determine the effect on your health of being married to someone who has cancer. By making your health a priority too you can lessen the impact. So make sure you look after yourself too.

With best wishes,
Anne x

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Who in your family has been most affected by the diagnosis of cancer? The first answer is of course, the person who has cancer. But how about the rest of the family, friends and so on?
In my workshop, ‘Life in the Cancer Fallout Zone : How Cancer Affects Family and Friends’, I ask the course participants to create a list of people who might be affected by someone else’s cancer. It’s a long list, and usually starts with a partner or spouse. Other family members include parents and children (and the experience differs depending on the age of the child in both these situations). Then there are brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles and other wider family members. After that come friends – close friends, acquaintances and people who just know one of the other family members. Then there are colleagues, employers and even employees. And even, with today’s celebrity culture, people who have never met the person with cancer can be affected by hearing about them on the news. Any of these people can be affected by someone else’s cancer if it changes their life in some way, or provokes strong feelings for them.
The next question we think about is who is most affected, and the answer is always that the people at the beginning of the list are more affected than those at the end. It seems obvious. A partner is more affected than a cousin, for instance; an aunt than an employer. But the truth is that it is not so obvious. A partner may cope well, whilst the cousin feels they are falling to pieces. Or the employer may struggle to cope where the aunt is able to keep serene. Why is this? The truth is that although there may be more changes to the life of someone with a closer relationship, how well they manage those changes has little to do with the relationship. It depends more on the person themselves. What other traumatic events have they had to deal with in their lives? Are they a person who manages stress well? Do they have a support structure of friends around them who they can lean on? Are they independent, or used to depending on others? It can be difficult if the person they rely on is the one with cancer.
Sometimes time also changes who is coping and who is not. Someone who needs a lot of support at the beginning may get used to the challenges, and improve. Then those who have been supporting them may find they have their own issues and emotions to deal with now they have more time to think. Changes in the progress of the illness can also trigger new worries.
So how does this knowledge help? It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong. A person is affected in the way they are. They have their own viewpoint, their own worries, their own journey. If one person is having a harder time, be there for them, but also make sure you deal with your own feelings. That way you are less likely to be the person struggling next week.

With best wishes,
Anne x

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