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Home > Patient & Family Resources > Health Library > Cancer Support: Family, Friends, and Relationships
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A cancer diagnosis changes your life, but it also affects the people who care about you. You're already dealing with your own distress about having cancer. And it can be hard to talk about it when you know people who care about you will be upset by the news.
You may wonder:
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:
Don't feel that you need to act cheerful or strong if that's not how you're feeling. It's okay to share your true feelings and act the way you feel.
Talking to your children
If you have children, you're probably worried about how they will deal with the news of your diagnosis. But it's important to talk to children of all ages about your cancer. And it's best not to pretend that everything is okay. Even young children will see that you're tired or that your routine has changed.
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.
How much you tell your children will depend on their ages and what kind of information they can handle. Encourage them to ask questions, and answer their questions as honestly as you can.
Talking to adult family members
Be honest with adult children, siblings, parents, and your partner. Discuss your options with them. Make sure they know your wishes for treatment and other major decisions. Make the most of your time with them, and share your feelings.
Talking to friends and coworkers
When you talk to friends and coworkers about cancer, share only what you're comfortable sharing. Be prepared for offers of help and support.
You've probably felt a range of emotions since you found out you had cancer. The people who care about you will have a range of reactions too. Some will get very emotional. Others may try to hide their feelings. Some may feel awkward and not know what to say, or they may seem angry for no reason.
It's not easy when you're dealing with your own feelings and other people's reactions too. But if you can, try to be open if people in your life want to talk with you about your diagnosis and how they're feeling about it.
Sometimes, people's reactions to your cancer diagnosis can really let you down. Cancer is scary for most people. Some may avoid you or avoid talking about cancer because they don't know how to deal with their fear. This can hurt, especially if you expected their support. Think about saying something like, "I understand that you may be upset or not know what to say, but I'd like to be able to talk with you about what's happening. I could really use your support right now."
Your partner probably feels scared about your health and your future. He or she may feel powerless to help you.
Cancer can bring couples closer together, but it also can cause a lot of stress in a relationship. The key is to keep communicating with each other. Share your worries and your thoughts often, and learn about your cancer and treatment together. Some couples find it helpful to start a journal they can both write in and share with each other.
Let your partner know how he or she can help you. You may want him or her to come to appointments with you or to help lift your spirits when you're feeling down. You may just need your partner to be a good listener when you need to talk.
It's important to 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 feel close, such as holding hands or cuddling.
Understand that your partner may need some time alone to rest, take care of other things, or work through his or her feelings about your illness. If you'd prefer not to be alone during those times, ask a friend or relative to spend time with you.
Cancer can impact your family life in many ways. Talking about cancer isn't easy. And fear, sadness, and other emotions can cause a lot of stress and can strain relationships. You may have financial worries as you work out how to pay medical expenses. And your routines and roles likely will change as you go through treatment and need more help from others.
Don't be afraid to look beyond your family for help. Let friends and extended family know what they can do for you. And consider counseling and support groups, which can help you and your family deal with this difficult time.
The following booklets from the National Cancer Institute's website may be helpful:
Current as of:
December 17, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal MedicineKathleen Romito MD - Family MedicineElizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Current as of: December 17, 2020
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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