Family and friends

Wednesday 1 April, 2015

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On this page: When others don't understand | Will my family inherit my cancer? | Coping with your children's needs | Key points

After treatment is over, your family and friends may also need time to adjust. Research shows that carers can also go through high levels of distress, even when treatment has finished.

Your cancer diagnosis may make people around you question their own priorities and goals. Like you, they may be concerned about the cancer coming back. Let your family and friends know that you understand it is hard for them as well. You may want to tell them how much you appreciate all they have already done to help you, and let them know if you still need their support.

People close to you can have a range of reactions when your cancer treatment ends. They may feel:

  • relieved that you’re okay
  • happy to focus on others and themselves again
  • exhausted
  • confused, especially if your relationship has changed
  • pleased that cancer no longer dominates conversations
  • worried about what the future holds.

Encourage your family and friends to seek support. They can call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or Carers Australia on 1800 242 636 for support or information.

"While I was filled with confidence, my parents were filled with dread when I came out of it."  — Mark

When others don't understand

When treatment finishes, your family and friends may expect you to act the same as you did before the cancer. If you have changed, people close to you may be confused, disappointed, worried or frustrated.

Friends and family may say things like “but you look fine”, “your treatment has finished now” and “the cancer has gone, hasn’t it?” They may have difficulty accepting that some symptoms, such as tiredness, can persist for long periods of time, and you may need continued support.

It’s natural for family and friends to want the distress and disruption of cancer to be behind you. They care about you and want you to be well. However, if you find their reactions difficult to handle, you might need to talk to them about how you’re feeling. You may need to tell them that your recovery is ongoing, that you need time to adjust and think about what you’ve been through. It may be useful to ask friends and family to read this section of our website.

Will my family inherit my cancer?

If you’ve had cancer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your children will get it too. If you are concerned the cancer is inherited, talk to your doctor about any risk factors and whether your family needs regular screening. Your doctor may refer you to a family cancer clinic or to a genetic counselling service.

Coping with children's needs

Like many adults, children may struggle with the way family life changes after a cancer diagnosis. They may worry about the future or find it difficult to understand why life can’t go back to the way it was before the cancer.

Talking to children about cancer can be difficult. However, conversations that are handled sensitively and honestly can be reassuring for young people. Children’s reactions and needs will vary depending on their age.

Communicating with children
  • Try to be as open and honest as possible.
  • Acknowledge the impact of cancer on your family. This is particularly important for teenagers.
  • Depending on the age and understanding of the children, talk to them about your fears, e.g. anxiety before a followup visit. This may encourage children to also talk about their fears.
  • Spend time together doing something they enjoy.
  • Be open about how you feel emotionally and physically, so the children understand if you’re not bouncing back.
  • Explain any changes made to your family’s lifestyle, and let them know if they are going to be permanent.
  • See Talking to Kids About Cancer or phone Cancer Council 13 11 20 for more information.

Key points

  • Your family and friends may have many mixed emotions of their own: relief, exhaustion, confusion and worry. Outwardly, they may have a range of different reactions to you.
  • Some survivors find their family doesn’t understand that they still need time to adjust to emotional and physical changes they may be experiencing at the end of treatment.
  • Encourage your family and friends to seek support. Cancer Council has a range of support services for family and friends. Call 13 11 20.
  • If you or your family are worried about inheriting the cancer, talk to your GP or oncologist. You may be referred to a family cancer clinic or genetic counselling service.
  • Family and friends also need time to adjust after your treatment.
  • Children may find it especially hard to understand how you have changed. Talking to them at their level and being as open and honest as possible may help.

Reviewed by: A/Prof Jane Turner, Department of Psychiatry, University of Queensland; Polly Baldwin, Cancer Council Nurse, Cancer Council South Australia; Ben Bravery, Cancer Survivor, NSW; Helen Breen, Oncology Social Worker, Shoalhaven Cancer Services, NSW; A/Prof Michael Jefford, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Clinical Director, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre; David Larkin, Clinical Cancer Research Nurse, Canberra Region Cancer Centre; Miranda Park, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Cancer Information and Support Service, Cancer Council Victoria; Merran Williams, Nurse, Bloomhill Integrated Cancer Care, QLD; Iwa Yeung, Physiotherapist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Danny Youlden, Biostatistician, Viertel Cancer Research Centre, Cancer Council Queensland.

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