Family and friends
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
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
- 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
- Acknowledge the impact
of cancer on your family.
This is particularly important
- 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
- 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
- See Talking to Kids About Cancer or phone Cancer Council 13 11 20 for more information.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- Family and friends also
need time to adjust after
- 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.