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Family and Community

Dear Iris: Can We Talk About Something Else?

Dear Iris,

It feels like all the time I spend with my family these days revolves around my cancer and how I’m feeling. I miss how it was before, when we’d spend time together and it felt normal. Is it realistic to think there can once again be moments when my cancer isn’t the center of attention?


Dear C,

You bring up such an important point. Cancer affects everyone around us, in different ways.  Given the demands of cancer treatment, you may notice a shift in roles and responsibilities within your family that impacts how you and your loved ones relate to each other. Because of this, it’s understandable that you feel a yearning to connect in ways that feel “normal” to you before cancer entered your life. Here are 5 ideas I’ve found to be helpful for families of all ages to connect: 

  1. Schedule a “cancer-free” night once per week. While your life may feel consumed by cancer, it can be healthy for you and your family to connect in ways that don’t involve cancer. Suggest a dedicated evening once per week where you can cook dinner together, watch a movie, or play a game without talking about cancer. Here’s how you might suggest that: “We spend so much time talking about cancer and my treatment. I’d like for us all to have a break and spend one night a week focused on other things. Tonight we’re going to cook pasta and play Monopoly.” You can even be playful by setting a rule like, “If anyone mentions anything related to cancer on this night, they’re responsible for scheduling next week’s activity!” 

  2. Organize photo albums. Spend time with your loved ones reviewing photos and organizing them into albums. This can help to spark conversation about positive memories and create laughter.

  3. Develop a favorite family music playlist. Either you or a family member can put together a compilation of your family’s favorite songs. What music or songs spark memories for you and your family? Think about music that you listened to while traveling or at family reunions. Did one member of your family have a specific song they loved that they played over and over? Add that. Don’t forget to add holiday classics.

  4. Plan a family walk. Explore the world together as a family and create new memories. Notice how being outside together, and discovering nature, can make you feel more grounded and connected to each other.

  5. Create a family time capsule. Maintain your family’s history and legacy by conducting interviews with various family members and recording them on your phone or computer – this is a way to preserve your family history for a lifetime.

Missed last week? Dear Iris: I Don't Want To Think About The End

Alexandra Gubin, LCSW

Senior Oncology Social Worker

Iris Oncology

Alexandra Gubin is a Mental Health Therapist with Iris. She has a medical social work background and extensive experience supporting people with cancer – especially young adults, teens, and children coping with cancer and their families. Alexandra also facilitates various support groups for the Cancer Support Community of Los Angeles, CA.

This article meets Iris standards for medical accuracy. It has been fact-checked by the Iris Clinical Editorial Board, our team of oncology experts who ensure that the content is evidence based and up to date. The Iris Clinical Editorial Board includes board-certified oncologists and pharmacists, psychologists, advanced practice providers, licensed clinical social workers, oncology-certified nurses, and dietitians.