Relationships with people close to you

Relationships with people close to you can be an important source of help and support when you are coping with advanced cancer. But talking about cancer can be upsetting and you may be unsure about how to do this.

If you have a partner, you may find that the stresses of the situation put a strain on your relationship or sex life. Talking openly about your feelings can help make your relationship stronger. There are people and organisations that can help with this.

If you have children, you may want to protect them. But it is often best to be honest. What you say may vary depending on their age and how much they understand.

You may find that friends or colleagues are unsure about what to say to you. It will probably help them if you can let them know what you need from them. It’s up to you how much you tell them about your illness. There is no right or wrong way to be. It’s important to deal with things in your own way.

Relationships when you have advanced cancer

Partners, family and friends are an important source of help and support when you are coping with advanced cancer. But it is common to find it upsetting or painful to talk about it with those close to you. Your family and friends may not be sure how much you want to talk about cancer and treatment. They may be waiting for you to bring up the subject.

When someone has a serious illness, many people are unsure how to respond. Some may try to avoid you rather than risk saying the wrong thing. Some people may avoid discussing your illness or may seem unsympathetic. We have information for family and friends, to help them feel more confident in supporting you.

I felt that we actually drew closer together. We talked much more about what we meant to each other and the things that we’d enjoyed together.

Janet


Your partner

If you have a partner, you may find that the stresses of an uncertain future, any side effects of treatment, or other difficulties put a strain on your relationship. There may be times when you don’t get on well together. Some couples find that problems are harder to resolve because they feel they have less time to consider them.

Talking about your feelings with your partner can help you both. Some people find their relationship becomes stronger if they can be open about feelings.

Having short breaks from each other may help relieve stress. Sometimes talking to someone outside of your situation also helps. They may be a relative, a friend or a counsellor.

Sexuality

When someone becomes ill, it can affect their ability to feel good about their sexuality. How advanced cancer affects you and your sexuality will depend on the type of cancer you have. Treatment and side effects can also have an impact. But having cancer doesn’t have to mean an end to your sex life.

Sex life

Sex can still be part of your life if you have advanced cancer, but you may find that you and your partner need some time to adjust. Even if you don’t feel like having sex or are unable to, there are intimate and affectionate ways of showing how much you care about each other.

Partners may sometimes mistakenly worry that having sex could harm you or make the cancer worse. Or they may worry that they could catch the cancer. Try talking openly with your partner about difficulties or concerns about your sex life. This can help sort out any misunderstandings.

Although it can be embarrassing to talk about at first, most people find it helpful to get some support. Your GP, specialist nurse or hospital doctors may be able to help you have these types of conversations.

There are also some organisations that can help couples who are having problems with their sex life. They have trained counsellors who specialise in this area. Your GP, practice nurse or community Macmillan nurse may be able to help you find someone.

Depending on what treatment you are having, it can be important to avoiding getting pregnant or fathering a child.

Going through this is incredibly bonding. We’ve sat up in the middle of the night with pots of tea and tears, and we’ve laughed and cried together. It’s made us value each other in a way we didn’t know was possible.

Betsy

How cancer can affect relationships

Ron and his wife Linda share their experience of how their relationship changed after Ron was diagnosed with cancer.

About our cancer information videos

How cancer can affect relationships

Ron and his wife Linda share their experience of how their relationship changed after Ron was diagnosed with cancer.

About our cancer information videos


Children and grandchildren

It can be difficult to talk to your children or grandchildren about cancer. Even very young children will sense when something is seriously wrong, so it’s probably best to be honest with them and tell them your cancer has come back or spread. However much you want to protect them, if you pretend everything’s fine, they may feel they have to keep their worries to themselves. Their fears may be worse than the reality.

How and what you tell them will depend on their age and how much they can understand. It may be a good idea to choose to tell them at a time when you and your partner, relatives or close friends can all be together. Then the children will know there are other adults they can share their feelings with and who will support them.

Children of any age may worry that you are going to die. If your cancer is likely to be controlled for a long time, it is important to tell them this. If the cancer is more advanced, it’s helpful to sensitively prepare them for your death. This can be a difficult thing to do and you may need help and support. We have information to support people having these conversations to help prepare a child for the death of a parent or close family member.

Teenagers

Teenagers can have an especially hard time. At a stage when they want more freedom, they may be asked to take on new responsibilities and they may feel over-burdened. It’s important that they can go on with their normal lives as much as possible and still get the support they need.

If they find it hard to talk to you, you could encourage them to talk to someone close who can support and listen to them, such as a grandparent, family friend, teacher or counsellor. 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. It is often helpful to tell the teacher of your situation so they are aware and can look out for any signs of struggles.

Family support services

Some hospices have family support services, which offer support to the families of people with advanced cancer. Your community nurse, Macmillan nurse or GP may be able to refer your family, including any children, for family support offered by the hospice.


Friends and colleagues

Some friends and colleagues will feel unsure about how to talk to you. They may leave it up to you to make the first move. You can tell them as much or as little as you want about your health. You may not want to talk about your cancer all the time, and you may rely on your friends to carry on as usual and distract you.

Your friends and colleagues will probably find it helpful if you can tell them what you want or need from them. For example, this might be help around the house or asking them to drive you to hospital appointments.

Claire and David walk their dogs in the park holding hands Claire on reaching out

'I went to the bar and when I turned around to go back, all my friends were sat there with bald caps on!'


If you don't want to talk

There may be times when you don’t feel like talking and want to be on your own. Don’t feel that you have to see people if you don’t want to or if you need time to yourself.

Allow other people to go to the door or answer the phone for you. If you are in hospital, you may want to limit the number of visitors you have. You can ask a relative or the nurses to help you with this.

There is no right or wrong way to face this situation. Each person has to try to deal with it in their own way and at their own pace.

Back to Relationships

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