Chapter 2: All in the family

Can’t we all get along?

The moment we heard about Dad’s cancer diagnosis, everything changed in our family.

Family members are not always on the same page even at the best of times. With the added stress of having someone ill in the family, anger and conflict may surface or become more pronounced. Disagreements over the right course of action sometimes happen between the person who is ill and the main family caregiver, as well as among family members. Add to this mix intense feelings, ways of coping, and new roles, and it may be unrealistic to expect smooth sailing. Click on each phrase below for more information on why anger and conflict might arise and for a tip that might help.

Anger often comes from a place of frustration; from being misunderstood or afraid; or from not being heard or acknowledged. It is a natural reaction to the threat of loss or to loss itself. Hurt, fear, and guilt can all contribute to anger. Anger often surfaces when we feel insecure or vulnerable.

When everyone is under stress due to a serious illness and an intense caregiving situation, try not to take others’ anger personally.

Try this

With as much compassion as you can, consider where the anger is coming from and what feelings or experiences it might be rooted in. Remember that all relationships have a history and that past bad feelings often surface during times of stress.

The presence of conflict does not mean there is something wrong with you or your family, although it can feel that way. Think of all of the changes that are in play – changes in feelings, roles, family “rules,” situations, finances – and the stresses that everyone is facing. It would be surprising if there were no conflict. When you look back on this intense time, you may be surprised by your own ability to cope.  

Try this

Again, with as much compassion as you can muster, step back, take a breath, and consider everything a particular conflict is rooted in.

Words of wisdom

A wise person once said, “At any given moment, human beings are doing the best they can.” Accept and acknowledge that each person in the family (including you!) is doing the best they can in this situation.  

What may help

Consider what you can do and what is simply beyond your control. Treat yourself with kindness and respect.

Consider all the places that you and your family members find community or professional support through the healthcare system, friends and family, or faith communities, and figure out how to access it.

Consider counselling. It can provide a fresh perspective and help family members talk and better understand each other.

Helpful resources