Q. I've just started treatment for breast cancer and I need to talk about my fears and concerns with the people who are closest to me. But my family just says, "Oh, you'll be fine" and to stay positive. How I can I get them to listen?


A diagnosis of cancer is a little like throwing a stone in the water; the ripples extend well beyond where the stone lands. Just as you are trying to deal with treatment and the concerns that go along with it, so, too, is your family. They may be anxious about how to help you and afraid they may upset you if they talk about your feelings or theirs. Much has been written about the need to remain “positive” for the person with cancer and family members are often concerned that if they express negative thoughts or concerns it will make the illness worse.

We’ve developed information to help address some of these communication challenges that may arise. Coping with Cancer: Tools to Help You Live and Caregiving for Your Loved One With Cancer are Connect® booklets that might be helpful to you and your family members. Our fact sheet, “What Can I Say to a Newly Diagnosed Loved One?” may also help your family members talk with you about your diagnosis. Another good resource is The Breast Cancer Companion (Avon Books, New York) by Kathy LaTour; several chapters deal with opening communication.

You might also try to set aside time to have a family meeting and allow each member an opportunity to talk about their concerns. For example, family members might meet to read aloud letters they have written about their own fears and emotions, as a way to begin the discussion.

Remember, not all families can respond in ways that will be helpful. A support group might be useful to you as a way to connect with others who understand how you are feeling. CancerCare offers groups in-person, over the telephone, or online. You can also contact us at 1-800-813-HOPE (4673) and speak with an oncology social worker.