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Coming Together as a Family to Cope With Esophageal Cancer
What each family member needs to know to cope with changes that esophageal cancer will bring, and how you can prepare children in particular.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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When a family member is diagnosed with esophageal cancer, the life of each individual family member will be changed forever, and the family dynamic will change, too. But as with all changes and challenges a family faces, the keys to coping are working together, offering support, and communicating.
Esophageal Cancer: How to Talk About It
Although each family member may be affected by esophageal cancer differently, everyone will have questions, fears, and concerns. It's important to talk about it as a family, in a way that is appropriate for each person.
If there are children, it's important to share this family challenge with them and to answer their questions honestly. Children have active imaginations, so what you don't tell them, they'll come up with answers to on their own. Be honest with children about the situation, and speak in simple, clear terms.
Be sure they understand that esophageal cancer did not happen because anyone was bad, and that it is no one's fault. Alleviate fears that they or other members of the family will become ill or "catch" cancer from the sick family member, and assure them that you will try to keep their life as normal as possible, with their regular routines.
It's also important to prepare children for what's ahead, and to describe some of the physical changes they should be prepared for. Explain that the patient may have to eat food in a different way, may be too tired to play, and may look thin and different as they go through treatment. Explain that the family member with esophageal cancer needs extra love, time, and attention, but that the child can help out, too.
Children can do simple chores around the house, such as tidying up their bedroom or feeding family pets, and they can help take care of the sick family member in various ways, too. Young children can carry drinks and snacks to a resting loved one, color pictures, read books, or even nap together; explain that just their company can be a big help to a loved one with esophageal cancer.
Older children and teenagers will be faced with added responsibility as parents deal with esophageal cancer treatments, recovery, doctors' visits, medical bills, and more. Teenagers may have to help prepare meals, do chores around the house, and care for younger siblings when you need to be with the loved one you're caregiving for. Explain to them that everyone is helping out, and that you understand that this is a lot of responsibility at their age. But remind them how much their help is needed, and how much the sick family member will benefit.
Esophageal Cancer: Accepting the Changes It Brings
Children aren't the only ones affected by this illness. The spouse or partner of the esophageal cancer patient assumes many new responsibilities, and the dynamic of the relationship will undoubtedly change. You're now spouse and caregiver, and if you have children, you may even be pulling the duties of both parents.
You're going to feel frustrated, angry, even guilty to be the healthy one, and guilty that you're angry to have so much responsibility. Be prepared for these feelings, and accept that it's normal to have them.
It's difficult to see the person you once saw as your strong, healthy partner become sick and vulnerable, unable to share responsibilities, and dependent on you. Despite the illness, remind yourself that you are still lucky to have each other. Continue having laughs, good times, and making memories, and don't let esophageal cancer take over your life and your family. Every member of the household will need to deal with the diagnosis, individually and together as a family.
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