Thursday, 11 January 2018

When a Family Member Has Cancer

Our Story

My dad was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma several years ago now, an it has been a long existing battle against it for our family ever since. This sounds like a very depressing opener to an article, but in truth, cancer can give you many unexpected gifts as well as the obvious bad. I'd like to tell you a little about our journey as a whole and give you some advice that I've had to learn as time has gone on.

I was previously one of the very fortunate people who's life cancer had never touched. In fact I'd never been to a funeral (still haven't), never known anyone with a terminal illness and never learnt about the causes, treatment or impacts that having cancer means. So you can imagine how world-shattering the news that my fit and healthy father, one of my best friends, had been diagnosed and would soon be treated with chemotherapy. This news came as I was taking my AS levels at school and worrying about small things such as whether Henry Barten in my class had a crush on me or whether I'd be able to lose 5 pounds from my legs. You could say I had to grow up pretty fast to cope with this addition in my life.

We were assured by doctors that this was a very treatable form of cancer and that they had high hopes for a quick recovery. And I understand that they need to be positive throughout the entire process because otherwise it causes furthermore unnecessary stress to the patient and family, however I also believe that they should also keep it realistic. It's now been 3 further years of a battle than their estimate.

I took a trip to look at a university with my dad in the middle of treatment and don't regret it for a second. He was tired from the drive up but we had such a great time and made a lot of memories. Life goes on!

One mistake I possibly think my parents made is to try and keep my sister out of the situation. I beg of you, if you're currently in the same position, just be open with your family about what doctors have told you so far, what treatment is on the list for the future and the care that your loved one is going to need. My sister and I were kept pretty much out of the loop for far to long, and although they had the best intentions for trying to protect us, in the long run this does no-one any good and only causes confusion.

Over the time of treatment my dad has been subject to chemotherapy, radiation, a stem cell transplant (with his sister as a donor) and is now part of a drug trial taking place at University College London because if I'm being blunt, this is one of our last options. This isn't to say however that we remain positive about curing him, because this is vital in the entire process and keeps everyone's strength up because it should always be a joint effort, with n one struggling by themselves. I've seen the best and worst of his condition from the start, and can tell you that having cancer, in whatever form, is truly a journey, with 'peaks and troughs' as my auntie would say. You're going to hit rock bottom at times but in my opinion, the way to look at it is that you only know you've hit rock bottom when you know what a peak feels like, and remember that good times are always going to return. I know this from experience.

If you would like any specific advice on how to care for your loved one after a treatment or any information on what is involved then feel free to message me, but for now in this article I'm going to give you some of the advice previously mentioned:

1) Talk about it. This doesn't have to mean a family session with everyone sharing their innermost feelings on the subject (although this is perfectly acceptable too), but ask them about what treatment they have coming up and what information they've been given on their type of cancer/illness. This way they know you are onboard and are there to discuss things with if necessary.

2) Offer assistance without taking control. For me, this meant helping my dad every morning and evening with what drugs he was supposed to take and making a record when he had. It can be anything from driving them to appointments of making a record of their condition. Even cook them meals if they are feeling tired/unable to do it themselves. There's no need for you to manage their entire life, this only exhausts you and makes them feel weaker.

3) Understand that you can't be in control. Cancer isn't going to care how much planning you put into the care of your loved one or your list of superfoods that have been shown to make an improvement. Don't stress about every aspect of life just because they have this condition, you are going to need to learn to go with the flow a bit and take the 'peaks and troughs' as they come. Enjoy the good days and accept the bad along with them. This was probably the hardest concept for me to deal with because I like to be in control and know what is happening even for next month so this was a real struggle, but I was lucky enough to have a mum who can help me through anything.

4) Accept assistance from others. It's times like these when you need to lean on your support system of friends and family and allow them to helping any way they are willing or want to. The larger the support system the stronger the base the patient has to stand on. Let them drive to the appointment or cook a dinner to bring round. It not only cheers you up to see more friendly faces, but it saves the stress of doing everything on your own and going through it alone.

5) Try to keep things as clean as possible. I'm not sure about other cases, but for my dad after his stem cell transplant this was probably the hardest thing to do. He was left with no immune system so we couldn't have any illness in the house (I was banished to my room for 2 months with shingles) and had to keep a bacterial spray in every room, wash his clothes everyday, and hoover/mop all the time. We also kept hand sanitisers at the door and would change out of clothes we had worn through the day when we got home so as to keep bugs from the outside away. This is important because it could seriously deteriorate their condition if they catch a simple cold, never mind chicken pox.

6) Stay organised. It makes it so much easier when everyone knows what the plans are for the week, and is able to help the patient take care of their medical supplies they need to be taking. Just a gentle reminder from you can make a difference of feeling secure, or stressed that they will forget. Keep a mini timetable of appointments for the week pinned up in the kitchen and let each other know of any major updates.

LIFE GOES ON!! <3 Cheer them up in whatever way you can, not that they are going to be depressed xx

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