Cancer often changes a person’s relationships with friends and family members. In these two “Moving Forward” videos from ASCO and the LIVESTRONG Foundation, learn more from medical experts and young adult survivors about keeping the lines of communication open so you get the support you need.
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Cancer.Net® A Patient Education Series for Young Adults with Cancer
ASCO® American Society of Clinical Oncology
Family and Friends
Melissa Hudson, MD; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology: Because cancer in young people is a relatively rare and usually frightening event, you will commonly experience changes in relationships after your diagnosis.
Nita Seibel, MD; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology: When you're diagnosed with cancer, you're going through this whole treatment and you're sort of focused on what the treatment is doing to your body physically. But your emotional support changes, even to the extent of your family and friends. And what you'll notice is that your relationships aren't quite the same as they were before.
Diane Blum, MSW; Member, American Society of Clinical Oncology: It's really important when you're being treated for cancer that you let your family and friends know what's going to be helpful to you. Some people will feel awkward with you and they won't know what to say, and maybe some of them will even just kind of disappear from their usual contact with you. So as clear as you can be on what's helpful to you, do you want to talk about your treatment? Do you want to talk about your diagnosis? Or would you rather just go to the movies and try and enjoy yourself with somebody? Are there specific tasks that somebody can help you with? Everybody has tasks that they have to do every day, and could someone help you with things like food shopping or taking you to treatment or helping you sort out all the paperwork you have? Be specific and try and help people help you. Most people will be very appreciative of that.
Dr. Hudson: When you're diagnosed with cancer during adolescence or young adulthood, it's very difficult because you're just starting this process of breaking way and becoming independent of your parents and that whole process seems to be derailed because you're brought back in, your parents have to be very engaged in your healthcare, in some cases your personal care and your finances, because you are not able to completely take care of yourself. So that is frustrating but you need again to have some honest discussions with your family and your friends about what steps you need to maintain control and what you can do on your own and where you need their assistance so they can understand when to set limits on what they're doing and not too overbearing in the situation of overseeing your care.
Dr. Seibel: Particularly with family members it's not always clear what role you want them to have, but one of the biggest things is to remember that during this time don't be afraid to ask for their help and they want to help you in most situations. If they are willing to help you let them help you because there are times that it will be to your advantage to have that support and often times they are not sure exactly where you want their support, in those situations you probably just need to have a honest discussion with your parent or your family to say, "I need your help but I can still be independent in these situations."
Dr. Hudson: I think you'll be surprised that most people will be relieved when you give them specific ways in which they can help you. They don't know how to ask you what you need they're afraid to say the wrong thing so just communicating specific tasks like can you bring my assignments home, can you come and review some school work that I was absent and I don't understand? Can you relay messages to friends? Would be very helpful and your friends will feel better that they are helping you in this way too that have been given, they can help you in a very specific way.
What You Can Do
- Talk regularly with family and friends about what support you’d like
- Be specific when people ask how they can help you
- Remember that asking for help doesn’t mean you’ve lost your independence
[Closing and Credits]
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This video series was made possible by a grant from LIVESTRONG to the Conquer Cancer Foundation.
Conquer Cancer Foundation® of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
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A video series for young adults with cancer
Family & Friends
Doug Ulman, cancer survivor: My name is Doug Ulman, and I was diagnosed with chondrosarcoma when I was 19.
Brock Yetso, caregiver: I'm Brock Yetso, and Doug and I were good friends at the time. We were in college, and we had both played soccer together our entire lives. I didn't really understand very much about cancer. I tried to just treat him like the buddy I always had, talking about soccer and stuff.
Doug Ulman: And that was helpful. Since I was dealing with cancer and doctors all the time, it was nice to just have a friendship that was normal. Brock and my family were great, and eventually, I found some other young adult survivors to talk to who understood what I was going through in a way that no one else did. Then, unfortunately, I had the opportunity to support Brock a few years later when his mom was diagnosed with cancer.
Brock Yetso: My mom was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer and passed away from the disease. The first person I called, and the one person who was always there for me, was Doug.
Doug Ulman: I think since I had been through cancer and faced a life and death situation, I was able to talk to Brock about what he was going through with his mom in a way that other friends couldn't.
Speaker 3: Emotionally, a lot of things changed after my diagnosis and after my surgery. I think that your friendships with friends in high school change, friends with your peer group changes because a lot of people don't understand how to deal with what's going on. So instead of dealing with it, they kind of either try to ignore it or ignore you. And both of those can be pretty hurtful.
Speaker 4: You have friends and family who are extremely compassionate around you, you have other ones who I know are very concerned about you, but they're a little bit nervous about the cancer word, so they're standoffish.
Speaker 5: I had friends who would call up and just talk for 45 minutes about something completely unrelated. Or they would never--it was as though they were dancing around the subject. And I would say, "Well, I went to the hospital yesterday, and I had a transfusion." They're like, "Oh. We don't need to talk about that." And I really had to say a lot of times, "That's all I have to talk about right now, and I need you to talk with me about this."
Speaker 3: I think at the same time, though, there's a lot of people that will surprise you with how incredible and thoughtful and consistent they can be in your life.
Speaker 6: I think it brought us closer. I definitely do. At 15, I was at that age. I really wasn't getting along with my father and that rebellious stage. And I remember him coming up when they--before they had formally diagnosed me, and they said, "We think this might be what it is." He sat on my bed, and he was like, "No matter what, we'll get through this."
Speaker 5: As things sort of went along, I started realizing that--I mean, I was 26 years old, and I was sort of following her as though I were 12 again. I thought, "I can't do this." And so I literally had to sit her down one night, and I said, "Mom, there's no one I want on my side more than you during this whole event," I said, "but you have to let me do this. Otherwise, I'm a victim on all sides."
Speaker 7: It's extremely different, one of the things being that your sense of independence, which you've worked so hard to achieve, is completely taken away from you immediately. And having to rely on my parents again to take care of me, I mean, at one point, bathe me and help me up the stairs and feed me, do everything for me, it's really hard on you mentally, emotionally.
Speaker 8: I think the best thing you can do for your son or daughter that's a patient is allow them to have as much control over their decisions and over their life as possible, however hard that may be for you. Or at least help them believe that they do.
Speaker 5: I think the next day, we went into the hospital for--I was having a bone scan, and the nurse called my name, and we both stood up. My mom and I both stood up. And I looked at her. She looked at me, and she goes, "Sit down and shut up, right?" Yeah, so it was really important. And I think it has made a big difference in our relationship. Since then, I sort of became an adult to her, at that moment.
Speaker 6: I do remember one time being in the hospital and being asleep but still kind of paying attention to my mother stepping outside with a friend at the door and just sobbing and saying, "It's so hard." And I do remember thinking, "Well, this isn't just hard on me."
Speaker 3: In many ways, I was the center of attention at every family event, every social event. My sister said that for probably a year nobody asked her about her. They said, "Hi, Cassie. How's your sister?"
Speaker 9: There was a point where she asked me, "Mommy, are you going to die?" Or, "Can I catch cancer?" And that was very difficult. It's hard to explain to a child that there are so many different levels to cancer.
Speaker 10: When I got up with the walker, I just stood there. And he told me to let go of your walker, and I let go. And he was like--he just froze. And I'd never seen my dad like that. I mean, there's this big guy, and all of a sudden he starts crying. It's like maybe this is all happening for a reason.
Speaker 11: When given the choice of whether to go through something like this by yourself or with friends and family, although it seems sometimes that it would be a lot easier to do it by yourself, it's not.
Brock Yetso: A lot of people say that you find out who your true friends are when you're diagnosed with cancer. That might be true to some degree. But I think as a young adult, our friends don't always know how to relate to someone with cancer, and so they just go away for a while or pretend like nothing's happening. Some of my friends disappeared when my mom was sick, but now we're close again. And I don't blame them for not knowing what to say during that time. I'm grateful, though, for Doug because he wasn't afraid of talking about it and supporting me.
Doug Ulman: If you're dealing with a diagnosis, try to maintain some normalcy and stay close with your friends and family. But also try to find other survivors who can relate to what you're going through. Be honest about your feelings and tell people what you need. Sometimes people don't know what to do or what to say until you spell it out for them.
Brock Yetso: Doug, I need you, man.
Doug Ulman: I need you too, man. If you have questions about talking to your friends or family, ask your doctor. Or contact these cancer-related organizations, for more information.
Family & Friends
A video series for young adults with cancer
Thank you to all of the cancer survivors who participated in this video. Footage was pulled from more than 200 cancer survivor interviews conducted by the LIVESTRONG Foundation since 2003.
This video was supported by the Cooperative Agreement Number U58/CCU6230066-04 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.