Friday, 14 April 2017

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Impact of Breast Cancer on Family

In this week's discussion, we explored the impact of breast cancer on our families.

Breast cancer impacts on our children, partners, parents, siblings and wider family relationships.

At a time we most need support, our families are under enormous stress and we heard about the different ways people cope and express their feelings; that sometimes families gather together to face our diagnosis with us, but that for others it seems too much to bear and they remove themselves or don't talk to us about our cancer. We heard that there is love and laughter and inevitably there is tension and stress. We heard that some people and relationships crumble, but others are strengthened and renewed.

A universal concern in the group was the potential impact of breast cancer on our children, particularly young children, those with vulnerabilities and at transition points. We heard about the different ways younger and older children expressed their feelings - some, but not all asked questions, or talked about their fears, sometimes behaviour was challenging; some struggled with school or academic work; some support and care for us.

Those of us with partners were aware of the impact of our cancer diagnosis on them, we worried that no-one was looking out for them, that they didn't share their feelings and fears with us, that they were under pressure to be strong. We heard about the amazing variation in the way that partners supported us, practically and emotionally, whereas others simply could not.

Whether we have primary breast cancer, a recurrence, or secondary breast cancer was important - some individuals and families had coped well during one bout of cancer, but then struggled further on. Other factors included - whether we were single parents, had caring responsibilities ourselves, for very young children and elderly parents, and some of us felt a strong sense of responsibility to protect them from the burden of our illness.

Naz only found a few pieces of research on this subject, these argued that that children struggled emotionally and were rated as less competent by their parents, compared with children from families with no breast cancer. However, she considered these results carried biased perceptions from parents and that objective measures of well-being, as well as reports directly from children should be collected over time. A good study, looking at the long-term effects of breast cancer on physical and emotional outcomes, is lacking.

When we previously discussed emotional vulnerability in spouses and partners, we learned that psychosocial support is missing; that partners of those with recurrent breast cancer suffered from high levels of anxiety; that male partners are especially at risk of high vulnerability as they tend not to be open to emotional expression and, as some of us experienced in our group, silently suffer, become unresponsive or can’t find the words.

Not all relationships survive the crisis of breast cancer. Yet, at the heart of our vulnerabilities lay stories of resilience, of women coming through the dark days to meet new partners, of children stronger, more empathic and confident, even though the hidden fears remain. It is clear that our families face our diagnosis with us, it affects them, and this in turn, affects us.

If you are a woman living in the UK with a diagnosis of breast cancer and you would like to join our private group, please leave your name in the comments.


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