A cancer diagnosis can bring on many practical duties that have to be performed. One of the biggest and most tiring duties can be keeping other people informed about what’s going on. You may feel as though your phone never stops ringing and that you’re telling the same story over and over. In order to ensure that fatigue and irritation don’t take over, it’s important for the family members closest to the person who has cancer develop a game plan for communicating with other people. When everyone in the family knows how communications will be handled and who is responsible for which duties, communications become more streamlined, and, therefore, easier for everyone. In her book, Their Cancer: Your Journey, Anne Orchard discusses various strategies for handling communications with concerned friends and family members.
Once people around you know there has been a diagnosis of cancer, there will be an insatiable appetite for information, particularly amongst those who know the family well. If you live with the person who has cancer, you may find yourself endlessly answering the telephone and relating the same details to one relative after another. If you live at a distance, you may be one of the people phoning – and possibly feeling guilty about doing so. It’s important to handle this communication issue, as it can drive the sanest person to distraction.
The most important factor is to set down some boundaries about the best ways to communicate. Is email easier, because you can choose when to reply? Do you, or the person who has cancer, like to chat on the phone – but only at certain times? Would you prefer to update one person, and have them pass the information around the family for you?
If you are the one desperately wanting an update, but find it hard to get information, ask the person with cancer or others in the family what would work best for them.
One way that a family can come together for mutual support at a time like this is to build a private website. This way people with fresh information can update it so that everyone can read it. If you have a question, you can ask it there, and get an answer from anyone who knows what you are seeking. You can share positive stories, family news, happy memories, and even photos. If you have a family member in their teens or twenties, they will probably know how to create this much better than I do – and feel good about being involved. If not, you can learn to set up a website through WordPress, or use the system provided at www.caringbridge.org.
Developing a family strategy for dealing with communications can help relieve stress on all the family members who are receiving endless calls and requests for information. Taking the time to determine the best way for your family to communicate to others is certainly valuable in the process of relieving stress for everyone during this time. It’s important that people be informed, but it’s just as important that the person with cancer and immediate family have privacy and quiet time when you need it.