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Breaking the Bad News to the Family

Guidelines Help Cancer Patients Tell Family, Friends
WebMD Health News

Oct. 22, 2002 -- Getting bad cancer news from your doctor is very hard. Telling your family and friends can be even harder. Now there's help.

A new program from the University of Heidelberg in Germany helps cancer patients get much-needed support from the people in their lives. Alexander Marmé, MD, presented the findings at this week's meeting of the European Society for Medical Oncology.

"There are two major problems here: anxiety, enhanced by a lack of knowledge," Marmé says in a news release. "Patients are afraid of talking about their illness with relatives. They don't know how to deal with it. The lack of communication causes additional stress in personal relationships."

Marmé and colleagues interviewed 58 cancer patients. Most thought they already communicated well with their partners but saw room for improvement.

To this end, the researchers have set up one-day workshops for cancer patients and their partners. The aim is to teach them the communication skills needed to get support -- not only from one another, but also from family and friends. It's called the GOALS program:

  • Getting together. A special time and chosen place should be used to set this important conversation apart from the distractions of day-to-day life.
  • Opening. Those involved must agree that there is a need or wish to talk.
  • Acknowledging each other's emotions. Understanding what the other person is feeling is crucial.
  • Learning about the disease and exchanging ideas.
  • Strategy. It's important to make plans to meet again and to keep the discussion open.

"Our program aims to break down the barriers and encourage people to discuss their cancer openly and appropriately," Marmé says.

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