Cancer Support: Family, Friends, and Relationships

Overview

Cancer can impact your family in many ways. Fear and other emotions can cause stress. Financial worries about how to pay medical expenses may strain relationships. And family roles and routines may change as you go through treatment and need more help from others.

It helps to think about how and what you want to tell family, friends, and coworkers and to understand how people may react. It may be easier if you prepare for those conversations ahead of time.

  • Be honest with adult family members.

    Discuss your options with your partner or trusted family members. Make sure they know your wishes for treatment and other major decisions. Make the most of your time with them.

  • Decide what you want friends and coworkers to know.

    Share only what you're comfortable sharing. Think ahead about how much you want to tell people at work about the cancer.

  • Consider what kinds of support you want.

    Many people will ask what they can do to help you. Think about making a list of a few things that others could do for you.

  • Be prepared for a range of reactions.

    Cancer is scary for most people. Some may not know what to say or how to react. Others may get emotional. If you can, try to be open if people want to talk about how your diagnosis makes them feel.

Talking to your children

It may help to plan ahead how you will talk to your children about your cancer diagnosis. Here are some things to think about.

  • Decide what you will tell them.

    It's best to tailor the information based on your child's age. Here are some ideas about the kinds of information children of different ages can handle.

    Very young children.

    They only need to be told that you are sick and that your doctors are helping to make you better.

    Young children.

    They won't need a lot of information. Remember that they usually don't have the experience to understand why cancer is so scary. Tell them the name of the cancer you have and what part of your body it's in. Use words they can understand.

    Teenagers.

    Teens are generally struggling to become independent from their parents. Finding out that you have cancer may make that process more difficult. Tell your teens what type of cancer you have, what part of your body it is in, and what type of treatment you will have. Try to stay focused on their feelings.

  • Talk to your children as soon as you can after you are diagnosed.

    This way your children will hear about it from you rather than from other relatives, friends, or neighbors. And you can be there to comfort them and answer their questions.

  • Choose a good time to talk.

    Try to pick a time to talk when both you and your children are feeling calm. If possible, have your partner there during the talk, or ask a friend or relative to be with you.

  • Encourage them to ask questions.

    Give your children time to ask questions and express how they feel. Be honest, and answer their questions as well as you can.

  • Help them feel informed and supported.
    • Look for books or other materials that can help you explain to young children what is happening.
    • Encourage teens to talk to other trusted adults and to spend time with their friends.

Working with your partner

Cancer can bring couples closer together, but it also can cause a lot of stress in a relationship. It can help to keep talking to each other.

  • Share your concerns with each other.

    Learn together about the cancer and its treatment. Some couples find it helpful to start a journal they can both write in and share with each other.

  • Understand that your partner is also under a lot of stress.

    Your partner probably feels scared about your health and your future. They may need some time to be alone or be with others. This can be a good chance for you to ask a friend or relative to spend time with you.

  • Find ways that you and your partner can feel close.

    You may not feel interested in sex, especially during your treatment. That's okay. There are other ways to be intimate. It may feel good just to hold hands or cuddle.

Where to learn more

Ask your doctors to suggest good sources for cancer information. They may have information for you or may recommend trustworthy websites. And many hospitals have medical libraries that are open to the public.

A number of national organizations have websites you can trust. They include:

  • The American Cancer Society (ACS) at www.cancer.org.
  • The National Cancer Institute (NCI) at www.cancer.gov.
  • The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) at www.nccn.com.
  • The Patient Advocate Foundation at www.patientadvocate.org.

Credits

Current as of: February 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine

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