Making the most of your relationships

Lesley Howells
21 May 2020

Hello, we are Lynne and Emma, specialist pancreatic cancer nurses.

This week we have a guest blog from Lesley Howells, who is a Lead Psychologist and Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Maggie’s. She will provide some useful tips for managing relationships when you or a loved one has pancreatic cancer.

We understand support from family and friends is important when you have pancreatic cancer. And with the coronavirus pandemic, our relationships with others have never felt more important.

Families and friends

It may be that a loved one has pancreatic cancer but for whatever reason, you can’t visit them to offer your support. This might be because of distance, other commitments like work, or concern about coronavirus and how it might affect them. You may feel helpless that you can’t be there. You could try new ways of connecting and supporting each other either through Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, or simply just speaking over the phone.

Lesley Howells offers some simple strategies on how to navigate your closest relationships.

  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Try to be patient with what people say and do. Often you know they don’t mean it. They may find it difficult to ‘stand in your shoes’ and empathise, so as a result are insensitive.
  • Be creative and plan something really simple that the whole family, or you and a loved one, can enjoy.
  • If you have grandchildren, you could film yourself reading a bedtime story book or drawing or building something for them. You don’t have to edit anything, they will love you even more for the funny bits.
  • Or walk a friend round your garden or park with family, giving yourself a break away from any tensions.
  • Play board games as a family – over Zoom if you can’t all be together.
  • Ask for help from family or friends.
  • If you aren’t able to chat with your loved ones in person, get into conversation with a neighbour by complimenting them on their garden, or be extra kind to a shop assistant. Showing kindness to others is a powerful way to feel happy, often giving a bigger buzz than someone being kind to you.

Managing relationships when you or your loved one has pancreatic cancer

When you’re diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, you, your partner and other family members can experience a variety of feelings from shock to denial to anxiety, anger and depression.

These feelings can be overwhelming.

First of all pause, breath out, let your mind settle.

It may seem strange to start with a pause, a breath. But it is the best way to respond to a situation and keep aligned with your values, rather than be swept away by difficult emotions and regret your actions.

Here is a link to a short breath-based meditation that helps to settle the mind.

And now….

  • Know that we can’t always change what happens to us in life but we can choose how to respond. Take a moment to respond by being calm and considered.
  • Write a list of what you want to say and questions you want to ask, and then rehearse them.
  • Know that everyone feels anxious, angry, tearful and sad when they are going through tough times. Don’t put extra pressure on yourself by trying to cope alone – ask for help.
  • Find practical ways to help someone. For example, if someone close to you has pancreatic cancer, you may not be able to take the fear and sadness away, but you can help by taking away some of their everyday stress.
  • Don’t burden yourself with too many ‘I should’, ‘I must’, ‘I ought’ – be kind to yourself. Talk to yourself in the same way you talk to anyone you love who is hurting.
  • Encourage yourself to give and accept compliments. Rarely do we actually say aloud the lovely things we think about a person.
  • Know that even if you don’t have cancer yourself your world has been upended too. Find someone you can talk to honestly about your feelings.
  • Find somebody else who is in a similar position to talk to and exchange ideas. Our online forum is a great place to meet others affected by pancreatic cancer.
  • Or you could join one of Maggie’s support groups. These are run by a psychologist and anyone is welcome to join. The group members swap ideas and coping strategies, and simply talk to others who completely get their situation.

Many thanks to Lesley for providing these useful tips for managing relationships. You can find further emotional support at Maggie’s, and we have information about coping with the impact of pancreatic cancer. You can also speak with your medical team or your GP.  And you can speak to one of our specialist nurses on our Support Line.

Thanks for reading our blog, take care of yourselves and we will be back next week.

Lynne & Emma


Updated June 2022