Caregiving, holidays and the art of negotiation

Dec. 1, 2017

Father and adult daughterHolidays and other big occasions come with traditions to uphold and expectations to meet.

Cancer can change all of that — leaving you and your loved ones to negotiate what to do when what you want and what’s realistic aren’t the same.

Talking about it is crucial, even though it may be uncomfortable, says Michelle Kettinger, LMSW, a social worker at Wilmot’s infusion center at Highland Hospital. 

“It’s not going to be one conversation and everything’s going to be resolved,” Kettinger says. “The first time may not go well, especially if the situation is new or has recently changed.”

So where do you begin? Kettinger offers a few suggestions:

Ask what is most important: Find out from your loved one with cancer what they most want to do, and use that as a starting point to figure out how to make it happen.

Balance hope with reality: Try to keep the focus on what can be done, not on what can’t. For the mom who’s always hosted the big family dinner or the uncle who has always gone hunting, the prospect of giving up what they love can be crushing. Bring an open mind to the conversation, and find some allies in friends and family to help you see and carry out what’s possible.

Compromise: Easier said than done, of course. Families have different dynamics, and it’s important for everyone to be sensitive to the perspectives of all involved. The sibling who lives down the street, for example, may have different views on what’s possible than the one who lives out of state. Remember, the only thing that’s not negotiable is safety.

Involve the care team: It can help to have an expert weigh in on the conversation, especially if it’s not going well. At an upcoming appointment, ask your loved one to raise the question with the oncologist or nurse instead of you. They can control how it’s presented, and they have a safe setting to ask any follow-up questions. Also, making it part of a medical discussion can take the pressure off the family.

The most important thing is to have these conversations and work with everyone to balance expectations with reality, Kettinger says. “Don’t assume that everything will be the way it’s always been,” she says. “It’s important to ask what changes you should make this year.”