Your relationships after cancer treatment
You may find that your experience of cancer has improved and strengthened your relationships with people close to you. We’ve listed some of the issues that sometimes arise in relationships and some ways of coping with these.
However, cancer is stressful and this sometimes has a negative effect on your relationships. Any problems usually improve over time, especially if you can talk openly with each other. In this section we’ve listed some of the issues that sometimes arise in relationships, as well as ways of coping with them.
After your treatment ends, you may sometimes feel that your family and friends don’t understand it if you aren’t feeling positive about getting on with things. They may not know how to behave towards you now that your treatment is over.
Talking openly about how you’re feeling will help them to understand you better and give you the support you need.
Our section on talking about your cancer has useful tips on how to talk to family and friends.
If you feel your family and friends aren’t as attentive as they were when you were going through the treatment, it’s usually because they need time to rest and deal with their own feelings. It doesn’t mean that they don’t care about you.
You may also find yourself coping with their emotions as well as yours. Your family and friends may have feelings of sadness, anger and uncertainty similar to your own, and these can affect their relationship with you. They may try to hide their feelings from you because they feel that you’ve had enough to cope with. Or they may simply find it difficult to know the right thing to say.
How children are affected by your illness often depends on their age. Younger children may feel that they’re somehow to blame for your illness and feel guilty.
Even if you explained the situation when you were first diagnosed, you’ll probably need to go over it again and reassure them that you’re now recovering.
Our section on talking to children when an adult has cancer has helpful information.
Try to talk openly and honestly with your children. Look for ways of getting them involved in your recovery, such as going for walks with you. Explain any physical changes or treatment effects that you’re still dealing with, such as tiredness. Tell them what you can do and help them to understand that your recovery may take time.
Teenagers may find it particularly difficult, because they’re going through a lot of emotional changes themselves. You may need them to take on more responsibilities around the home at a time when they’re looking for more independence.
If they’re finding it hard to talk to you, encourage them to talk to someone close who can support them, such as a relative or family friend.
They may also find it useful to look at the website riprap.org.uk which has been developed especially for teenagers who have a parent with cancer.
Some couples become closer as a result of sharing the experience of cancer. However, cancer can put a lot of strain on a relationship. Problems sometimes develop, even between close and loving couples who’ve been together for a long time. If a relationship was already difficult, then the stress of a major illness may make problems worse.
In very close couples, people may assume that they know what their partner is thinking, but they may not always be right. Talking openly about your feelings and listening to each other can help you understand each other’s point of view.
If you and your partner feel that counselling would help you in your relationship, you can contact Relate.
Our section about Cancer, you and your partner looks at emotional effects, sexuality, practical issues and communication.
You might find it helpful to watch our video of Linda and Ron talking about how cancer affected their relationship.
It’s not unusual for people to have difficulties with their sex life after treatment is over. You may feel very tired and worried, and sex may be the last thing you feel like. There are lots of intimate, affectionate ways of showing how much you care for someone, even if you don’t feel like having sex. Things usually get better over time as you adjust and recover from your treatment.
Partners may sometimes mistakenly worry that they could ‘catch’ the cancer, or that having sex could make the cancer worse. They may feel that you’ve lost interest in them or that your feelings have changed. Talking openly about problems and concerns about your sex life with your partner can help to sort out any misunderstandings. It can also reassure you that your feelings for each other haven’t changed.
Sometimes treatment results in physical changes or side effects that make sex difficult. You can read more about how these can be improved in our section on physical effects.
Our section on sexuality and cancer discusses the possible problems that can occur following cancer treatment and suggests ways of coping.
Let your doctor or nurse know if you’re having problems with your sex life. They may be able to reassure you about your concerns. If you feel uncomfortable talking to your doctor or nurse, you may want to call our cancer support specialists. Some people may find it helpful to talk to a sex therapist. You can contact a therapist through the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists.
Some people find it difficult to start a new relationship after cancer. You might worry about how someone else will react to knowing that you’ve had cancer or to changes in your body or physical appearance. You may find it difficult to discuss sexual problems, or to tell someone that you can’t have children. Another worry may be whether the person is able to give you the support you need.
Some people find that their cancer experience has made them stronger, and they may feel that they now have more to offer in a relationship. A new relationship may be one of the challenges that you want to face in a positive way. If you’re anxious about the thought of a new relationship, the following might help:
Get involved in activities you enjoy and where you can meet other people - this will help boost your confidence.
Get advice from other people who’ve been through a similar experience - you could try social networking.
Think about when you might want to tell someone about your cancer experience. There’s no right time - you may want to wait until you feel comfortable and safe with them. But it’s best to tell them sooner rather than later, before the relationship gets serious.