Q. I was diagnosed last fall with Stage 2 pancreatic cancer. The survival rates are not great, but I am quite hopeful. My 18-year-old daughter, however, has told me that she cannot be hopeful because she can't handle being let down if I die. While this makes sense to me, what can I do to help her?
Everyone responds differently to a cancer diagnosis — some people are optimistic, and others, like your daughter, are afraid to be hopeful. Your ability to respect your daughter’s views and understand the difficulty she is having with your diagnosis is important. While you may not be able to change her outlook, you can be supportive of her through this challenging situation.
Encourage your daughter to share her thoughts and feelings about your diagnosis with you. What are her fears? Worries? Hopes? Allowing her to express her feelings freely can provide you with the opportunity to talk openly about your situation. You can even start the conversation by sharing your own worries, hopes, and fears with her. Telling her that you, too, have uncertainties will help to validate her feelings and make it easier for her to open up.
Communication is the key for families coping with cancer. By opening up to your daughter, you are showing her that it’s okay to discuss her feelings. The fact that she has expressed her fears about being let down indicates that she feels the two of you have a trusting relationship. It is understandable that you want your daughter to be optimistic; however, your being able to accept her fears gives her permission to share exactly how she is feeling.
Teens often struggle talking with their parents about illness. Look to adult relatives, teachers, and coaches as potential sources of support for your daughter. She may also benefit from talking one-on-one with a counselor. She can call us and speak with an oncology social worker and we can also help her find local support services.
Your daughter might also find helpful resources online that are specifically designed for teens with a parent with cancer, such as Cancer Really Sucks.
For yourself, CancerCare offers a telephone support group for people with pancreatic cancer. This is a safe place to discuss all the concerns and issues that arise from your diagnosis. Please contact us at 1-800-813-HOPE (4673) for more information.