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“Cancer impacts everyone in a family, not just the patient.”

Domestic Violence has been in the news a great deal this week, especially for those of us who live in Baltimore. The connection between cancer and domestic violence may not at first be an obvious one but for those of us who work with patients and families in the midst of the stress and chaos of a cancer diagnosis, treatment and survival, it is a frequent reality. In fact, some organizations, like the AVON Foundation for Women, focus exclusively on the two causes- eradicating breast cancer and ending domestic and gender violence. And did you know, that October, well known for pink ribbon as well as pumpkins, is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month?

Having cancer, being diagnosed with cancer, and being treated for cancer are all extremely stressful life events. Cancer impacts everyone in a family, not just the patient. Patterns of interacting with each other (both positive and negative) tend to be accentuated during a cancer experience. If you or a family member has dealt with anger in the past by using physical force, hateful, aggressive language or controlling behaviors, it is very likely they/you will continue to do so but even more intensely.

As a patient navigator for young adults living with cancer, I have worked with a handful of young couples who are in physically and emotionally violent relationships. It is important to remember though that domestic violence is not limited to those in romantic partnerships. Physical and emotional violence can be inflicted by siblings, parents and other relatives.

There are several resources I recommend locally including the hospital-based domestic violence programs at Sinai Hospital, Northwest Hospital Center and GBMC (410-601-8692; 410-496-7555).

Helpful resources at the national level include the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233.

It is especially important for cancer patients to remember that just because someone drives you to treatment or helps you purchase your medication, it does not give them the right to harm you physically or emotionally.

Many young adults I work with are dating or begin to date when they are able to return to work or school after treatment. Dating violence and “date rape” on college campuses has also been in the news recently. I encourage young cancer survivors just re-entering the dating scene to think carefully about how they wish to disclose their cancer survivor status to potential romantic partners. I also provide education on what constitutes a health dating relationship and often refer them to Love Is Respect.

Written by Elizabeth Saylor, MSW. Elizabeth is an  Young Adult Patient Navigator at University of Maryland Marlene & Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center. You can reach her at elizabeth@ulmanfund.org.