- Question from binney1: Maybe Worried Brother's question really is about his own fears. It's soooo hard to be the helpless friend or loved one looking on. You're afraid not only for the woman you love who has cancer, but that your offers of help will be all wrong or be rejected. How do you cope with cancer fears when the cancer you fear is not even your own?
- Answers - Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W. A cancer diagnosis provokes fear and anxiety in everybody around us, so that everyone tonight who has asked questions about dealing about the outside world—whether it was the brother concerned about his sister or the office mate—all of these things reflect our friends' own fears, terrors, and anxieties about what a cancer diagnosis would mean to them. One of the reasons that we get inappropriate or insensitive responses is because it taps into everyone else's fears and worries. It is almost too much to ask the patient to deal with everybody else's feelings. You have enough on your plate to deal with. Often, when I talk to patients about how to handle those around us, they feel overwhelmed by yet another burden. They want to take care of themselves and they don't have much energy left to take care of brothers, office mates, and friends. But people around you will often take their cue from you. If you behave with optimism and confidence, they will take their cue from that and treat you that way. But it is too much of a burden to ask yourself to treat yourself that way all of the time.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. What about the mother with young children who needs to help her children deal with their anxiety? That is a burden and responsibility that she must handle.
- Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W. The burden and responsibility that a young mother has in dealing with her children is difficult and painful but has to be dealt with. We recommend open, clear, honest communication with children. It's usually a parent's reflex to protect children. I think it is Wendy Harpham (a doctor with children) who writes about how to handle children with a cancer diagnosis. She often writes about how we cannot protect our children from sad things. We can, however, teach them coping mechanisms to deal with difficult things that come up in anybody's life. While it is a burden for the young mother to have open communication with her young children, she needn't pretend that she is not upset and concerned. Cancer affects the entire family. Everyone is frightened and concerned, and if we are open with each other and share our fears we can also be open and support each other.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. Your choice of words—open and accessible—is really important here. It is so important to create an environment within your home that will give permission to your children to express their concerns.
- Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W. That can be done if you are open to expressing your concerns. If you have an atmosphere that you are all brave soldiers, it puts the child in a position of coping with it all by him/herself. If you are open, you can all express how you are feeling.
- Marisa Weiss, M.D. Whispering between adults at the edge of a room when your children are there is not a good idea, because children usually fear the worst and they will probably imagine that horrible terrible things are about to happen. They might even believe that they are responsible for those bad things, so in creating the atmosphere of expressing and sharing it's good to be mindful of how they may misperceive some of your actions.
- Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W. In summary, I just want to thank Dr. Weiss and breastcancer.org for this opportunity to participate in something that I know is helpful to people. I just want to thank you for the opportunity to reach out to people. It has been my pleasure to work with breastcancer.org.
The Ask-the-Expert Online Conference called Dealing With Breast Cancer Fears featured Rosalind Kleban, L.C.S.W. and Marisa Weiss, M.D. answering your questions about aspects of breast cancer that cause concern.
Editor's Note: This conference took place in June 2002.
The materials presented in these conferences do not necessarily reflect the views of Breastcancer.org. A qualified healthcare professional should be consulted before using any therapeutic product or regimen discussed. All readers should verify all information and data before employing any therapies described here.
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