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What We’re Talking About Now: FAMILY


Conversations among our community at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center have suggested that family can be an extremely broad term. At its center are immediate and extended relatives. Patient Alyson wrote that her husband and mother are so close to her that they can be described as “extensions of me.”

Beyond these most profound personal connections, the word can also encompass caregivers of many kinds, other patients, and more. Jenn included “fellow survivors” in her list of family for example, as they represent “a family of fighters who no matter what never gave up.”

Most participants in our conversation seemed to suggest two crucial kinds of support this wide-ranging family can offer. The first is comradeship when facing fearful situations. Contributor Jenn, again, felt that “It was a lot less scary facing what was ahead of me when I knew how much love I had and how many people were praying for me and wishing me well.”

The other major support family can give is a renewed sense of determination. Chloe wrote that “they motivated me to fight,” and Lisa left a comment that with the strength of her family, she feels that “I will beat this! My family needs me here for several years yet!”

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Of course, being one of these family members is not without challenges too, as Steve suggested in his perspective:

I suppose, in cancer, ‘family’ is that large or small community of people who get to see us at our best and at our worst; relationships fraught with our most intimate fears and hopes, laden with duty and love.

Steve’s reflection on the two sides of being part of a family was complicated even more by Ana’s comment that she feels guilty for “imposing on” her family by “burdening” them with the challenges from cancer that she faces. Anne agrees, “Family is complicated. It is intense. And it is offers the world’s greatest joys and greatest hardships.” Ultimately for Anne, family “is at the center of everything. Nothing is more important.”

Many of our perspective writers and commenters on this topic have been very keen to offer their thanks for all that their family has given them during their cancer experience. One comment from Sharon perhaps sums this up best:

“I love them all, even if I don’t always say so—I do in my heart!!! The hugs you give are so important—don’t ever stop. Always know how very thankful I am for your existence.”