Life-Threatening Illness: How do family members and friends cope with the stress

Life-Threatening Illness: How do family members and friends cope with the stress

Depression is an increasingly common affliction for people with life-threatening illnesses, and it reflects onto their family members. The traumatic ordeal begins with a diagnosis and proceeds towards an agonizing process of damaging treatments, often culminating in death. Such life experiences are heart-shattering and emotionally draining, and they change our lives profoundly. 

For instance, the fight against cancer is harrowingly traumatic and exhausting, from the diagnosis until the cancer is in remission. Millions of patients lose the battle and succumb to the fatalistic attacks of cancerous cells crowding up their bodies. Patients are never alone in this battle as their family members and friends share their exhaustion, stress, and agony.

How do families and friends cope with the stress and depression of life-threatening illnesses? Truth be told, many survivors and their families never truly recover from the trauma. But there are ways to move forward with positivity and hope. 

Love, Support & Compassion 

Life-threatening illnesses, such as cancer, have a devastating effect on our long-term partnerships and marriages. Patients often fear that their spouse or partners would leave them if they lose their youthfulness, beauty, and vitality. In some cases, fears stand true when a spouse succumbs to the pressure and stress of the illnesses, deciding to bolt. 

Caregivers and family members who devote their lives to fighting the illnesses end up drowning in emotional and physical stress. Many spouses and children find themselves working multiple jobs to pay for the treatments, medications, and home aide expenses. 

Partners often feel a loss of intimacy and chemistry as they combat the stress of financial burdens and erratic symptoms. Many patients diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer feel undesirable, which reflects negatively on their sexual intimacy. Patients diagnosed with the disease also feel useless and fear abandonment because they can no longer work and socialize. 

The stress and anxiety reflect on both patients and their caregivers. Therefore, the only way to combust is with love, support, and compassion. Understanding the emotional turmoil and mental trauma is instrumental in elevating tension and stress. 

Reversing Roles 

Life-threatening illnesses come with an abrupt reversal of roles. People who were once in charge of the household find themselves dependent on the mercy of others. Caregivers find themselves propped against the pillows, unable to attend to their grooming needs and basic rituals. 

This reversal of roles is necessary, but it creates an enormous amount of stress for patients and their families. In such a situation, it’s crucial to remain flexible and considerate of everyone’s needs. It’s critical to avoid overburdening family members who are struggling with multiple jobs and domestic chores. It’s essential to allocate responsibilities that are manageable within the workload capacity and strength of each individual. 

Caregivers should avoid over managing treatment schedules, healthcare teams, and setting multiple appointments. Such controlling behaviors can trigger negative emotions and mood disturbances, making patients irritable and overwhelmed. 

Open Communication 

Lack of communication can give rise to misunderstandings and complications that are easily avoidable. Opening communication allows patients and their family members to bust off stress by relying on each other for emotional support. 

Many adult patients diagnosed with cancer make the difficult decision of not sharing their diagnosis until it’s too late. That’s a grave mistake because even if you presently lack the strength to fight, your family will give you a million reasons. It’s crucial to take family members, partners, and friends in confidence and allow them to help and love you. It’s wise to establish open communications and avoid making unilateral decisions about treatments and finances. 

Protecting Children from Fear

Parenting comes with uniquely complex challenges after a cancer diagnosis. The thought of any life-threatening illness that could snatch one’s parents is earth-shattering and traumatic. And living through the fear of losing one’s mother, father, or sibling creates a melting pot of trauma, anxiety, and fear. How can parents protect their children from such fear? 

Communication is instrumental in helping children process the fear, stress, and other challenging emotions they experience. Parents believe that it’s best to avoid burdening them with their diagnosis and intricate treatment details. Ambiguity always exacerbates fear, and once children sense something is wrong, they will want answers. 

It’s best to provide these answers in the simplest, most comprehensive, and positive manner to give them hope. 


Life-threatening illnesses, be it cancer or diabetes, transform our lives, slaughtering our dreams and plans for the future. Some lose their retirement savings and travel-the-world funds. In contrast, others spend their nest eggs on chemotherapy and expensive treatments. Patients and their families find themselves engulfed with fear, trauma, and chaos. 

Life-threatening diseases come with an enormous sense of loss. Such life junctions make us re-evaluate our priorities and goals. Instead of stressing about lost dreams and plans, it’s essential to focus on positivity and change.

Christie Lewis
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