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Trying to maneuver this thing called life is a challenge on its own. Throw in an unforeseen accident or an illness and then the challenges just seem to become bigger. Trying to imagine what it is like for everyone in the family is a difficult challenge. Many families go through different stages of reaction at different times and are hardly in sync. What once was easy is now hard and what was once a fully functioning family is now a chaotic environment.
It is in this type of situation that the challenge is to try to get them all together on one page, so to speak, so they can learn to adapt to the new way of life.
Imagine waking up one day going through your life like you normally do. Your day goes along just fine but something feels a little off. You try to push off this feeling and you continue your day. As the days go by, you notice that you are not quite your normal self.
You make an appointment to see your family doctor and he does the usual work up; labs, questionnaires, and physical. Everything comes back normal, so you attempt to resume your normal routine but deep down inside you feel like you are not okay. You go back to the doctor and he insists you are over exaggerating and it is all in your head. At this point you are beginning to get angry. You go home and vent to your significant other who seems to agree with your doctor.
I mean he is a trained professional who could not possibly be wrong. The isolation sets in. It’s you against the world. You continue with this burden until one day it hits hard. Your heart begins to pound like it is trying to escape its cage, breathing becomes painful, and then the world goes dark. You wake up in a hospital only to be told that it was not quite a heart attack but a thyroid storm causing your heart to accelerate. Tests are done. They found a dark mass on your thyroid scan and you need a biopsy. The options are laid out, so you decide that taking out the mass in question is the correct choice. Surgery is scheduled. All at once your mass is removed, biopsied, and the results come back immediately. It is cancer. But, you are to young for this. The doctor makes the choice to remove everything she can. Perhaps she was a bit overzealous because she took what she could see but she manages to paralyze your vocal cords in the process. You have now become a mute hormone less cancer patient all in one day. “A total thyroidectomy requires lifelong thyroid replacement therapy (e.g.,thyroxine) and follow-up due to the disease having a long natural history, a likely late recurrence, and late side effects of RAI treatment, such as leukaemia or secondary tumors” (Smith). You now have a life-long illness/disability.
Now, imagine being the spouse of that newly disabled person. The one who did not believe the loved one when they said they were not feeling one hundred percent or showed no empathy when the sick spouse came crying to you saying no one seemed to understand. How would you feel? Normal reaction would be to feel guilty but perhaps the spouse in question does not follow the norm. He begins to be resentful as if it is the sick spouses fault they are going through this. He is upset he must miss work, to pick up the children, and now he must do household work. Afterall, he is not sick why should he be made to be uncomfortable. This is not quite what he had in mind when he said he would be there through the sicknesses. Let’s suppose he believes that perhaps she should have toughed it out since the surgical decision that was made seemed to have made everything worse. He believes this is her fault. This may seem like a stretch, but men don’t do well when they are not the one who is sick. According to one study, “Women who are diagnosed with a serious medical disease such as cancer or multiple sclerosis are more likely to be left by their husbands than if the man were the patient, according to the results of a prospective study” (Separation). The children in this situation could also have confusing feelings. They could be scared or confused. They went from having a healthy mother to seeing her laying sickly in bed. The mother is not herself anymore. They could be wondering what is going to happen. Everyone knows that cancer is bad. It’s all over social media about how people die from cancer. The children don’t know what type of cancer the mother has but since no one is telling them anything they begin to draw their own conclusions. According to one article, “‘From a very young age, children are attuned to their parents’ moods,’ says Paula Rauch, MD, founder of Parenting at a Challenging Time, a counseling service at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston that helps moms and dads discuss illness with their children. ‘They sense your worry even if you don’t actually voice it’”(Gorman). Without communication these kids could even believe that their mother is dying so they begin to get depressed or have angry outbursts at school. So now the sick/disabled family member must try to deal with not only their own health problems but also the problems of her children and her spouse. The spouse could also be feeling overwhelmed from having to deal with his new-found role of nurse to his spouse and both mother and father to his children. Not to mention the children who always manage to seem to pick up on the stress emanating from their parents. They see that there is no longer cohesion but tension in the home.
This type of situation is nothing new as many families go through some similar type of unexpected challenge. The goal though is to try to catch these families before they head home to deal with these challenges on their own. “Family assessment is often a key ingredient for developing and effective management plan” (Power, 101). Providing counseling to this family may have benefited them to help ease their frustrations. “Trying to assist an individual through a values change process to the point where positive aspects of managing stress are recognized may improve his or her overall sense of well-being” (Groomes). The sick/disabled family member could have had some sort of counseling to help them with the cancer diagnosis or the loss of their voice. In one study, it was noted, “…some reported needing an outlet like counselling as they found it ‘draining’ to remain upbeat to supportive family and friends” (Smith). The spouse could have been directed to groups that have experience in dealing with disabled family members. Actually, the whole family could benefit from individual counseling, group counseling, family counseling, and support groups. Having a way to see that you are not the only one going through this type of challenge is always beneficial.
Challenges are a part of life and there is no greater challenge than dealing with an unexpected illness or disability. As difficult as it is, one must try to see through the families eyes on how they would react to a family members new illness/disability. How a family copes and faces these challenges depends on how well they are prepared. We can only hope that more and more families are being given opportunities to help improve their family outcomes.
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