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Breast Cancer Health Center

Breast Cancer's Relationship Toll

Any major illness can strain close relationships. But for women with breast cancer, it can be an especially difficult emotional challenge.
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"They think that needing help means they have no willpower or strength. But in reality, being able to share your feelings and ask for help when you need it is a sign of strength that can strengthen the relationships in your life when you need them the most," says Mauricio Murillo, MD, an onco-psychiatrist and director of Supportive Services at the NYU Cancer Center in New York City.

So where -- and how -- do you begin to do that? The best way to start, say experts, is with honest, open communication with family and friends.         

Breast Cancer and Your Family Relationships

Among the most important relationships in our lives are those we forge with our partners and especially our children. And whether they’re toddlers, grade school-aged, teens, or even young adults, experts say if you want to keep the family unit strong during this challenging time, it's essential that you confide in them from the very earliest stages of your disease. 

"It doesn't work to keep this important a secret from your children. Kids are remarkable in that they pick up on everything going on in their parents’ life, and they almost always know when something is wrong," says Puckett.

Moreover, Murillo cautions that when kids do sense a problem but don't know what it is, they often blame themselves.

"They begin to feel guilty, as if they are causing the situation, and they pull away. So it's very important to talk to them honestly and openly right from the start," says Murillo.

While Nelson says very few parents use the word "cancer" in their explanation -- most, she says, refer to tumors or lesions, or sometimes just say “Mommy is sick” – what trumps the list of suggestions is assuring your children that you are doing everything possible to get well. 

"You can't promise your kids that you're going to be alive and that everything is OK, but you can say you are working with the best doctors you could find and that everyone is going to do their very best to help you get better," says Puckett.

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