Tuesday, 17 November 2020

Impact of breast cancer on our nearest and dearest: BRiC's Collective Voice


“The impact on my family and parents when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 34 was enormous.”
Our Sunday discussion discussed how breast cancer has affected our loved ones, our dearest and nearest.

We were not surprised that our discussion raised many mixed and diverse experiences when it came to how our cancer had affected our family, our friends, and our children. One thing was certain though: that the emotional toll is there for them too.

Husbands/partners were thought of being excellent with the practical side of things. Some of us talked about how good they were with the housekeeping, hospital appointments and shifting work to be present with us during treatment and so on. Equally though, this dissipated with time, such that as time moved on they had had enough and believed that we should be cured, that they were ‘tired of doing everything’, and that we were lazy. Others not so much, they continued to worry about us, they continued to be our rock. It was agreed that the emotional stuff was harder for them to deal with, and their reluctance to talk and open up, made it harder for them to cope. We heard about depression and suicidal attempts, we also heard about partners leaving and shutting us out.

Telling our children and adjusting what we say and how we communicate, considering their age and disabilities, can be really hard. Our sons, compared with our daughters, some reported, found it harder to digest, but this eased with time. Our children were very instrumental in helping, they took charge, found information, encouraged us. But we also heard that children got bullied at school because of us, and they were uncomfortable to be seen with us in public.

Some of us reported that our children found it hard to talk, to cry, to express their emotions. We can spot the fear in them even when they try to hide it. We get asked if we will die or live with the slightest illness we experience. We make efforts to be honest to the best of our ability so that we can protect them, to look after them, and to nourish them, even so, some break down and need counselling. It helped if our children had friends they could confide in. For some, they have always seen us as a cancer patient, as they were newborns when we were diagnosed.

It can be very hard to talk about our cancer to our parents, especially if they are elderly. In fact we’ve avoided it if they are fragile or suffer from their own vulnerability. For some of us, our mums saw us through treatment, for others our parents abandoned us, either finding it too hard to deal with, and not wanting to discuss it. Because of this belittling effect, some found it easier to distance themselves from their parents. For many, our immediate family did not want to hear that our cancer is ‘ongoing’. Sisters and brothers are important, but again we spoke about how some had abandoned us and/or were not interested in supporting us. The opposite was true as well, with many reporting that their siblings were there in the thick and thin of it.

We acknowledged that for those of us with secondary breast cancer, it can be harder to communicate as pressures can run high for our immediate family. Some of us talked about how writing through our blogs can help them understand how we can be supported.

We were equally grateful for friends who travelled long distances to visit and support us, pleasantly surprising us with kind gestures.

Our members were grateful for having found BRiC: their BRiC family is who they go to. Moving forward courses and other support groups are valuable too.

We concluded that just as much as we need emotional support, our partners, our children and our immediate family need educating and emotional support so that they can care for themselves and us, cope better as well as know how to support us better. They can be better prepared for us and our needs and consequently they can feel stronger in supporting us, and not abandoning us. Hopefully research will emphasise this important point so that we can provide better support for our families.


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