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Blended Families and Cancer

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

I regularly write about communication within a family when someone is dealing with cancer. American families are, of course, often blended families. People remarry. Connections change. When cancer is diagnosed, family members come together to share information and provide advice. Newer family members want to be helpful but might feel uncertain of what role they should play.

An illustration: You recently got remarried. Your new husband’s adult daughter was just diagnosed with a brain tumor. The two of you fly to be with her as does the daughter’s mother. There is information to be processed and decisions to be made.

Families are complicated and there’s no clear set of instructions to guide individuals who have been connected with the family for a shorter period of time than other family members. In many situations, newer family members focus on providing support to their own spouse or partner. In some families, a new family member might be valued as the calmest person present and be called upon to be a communicator in one way or another.

My point in writing this is not to define the role of the new family member. That’s impossible because every situation is so different. But I do hope to sensitize everyone that new family members may be struggling to find the role that works for them and for their new family.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Click here to see all of Bob’s columns

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