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. Talking about your illness can be upsetting and you may be worried about how to do this.

Some couples find that the stresses of the situation put a strain on their relationship. You and your partner may also have concerns about your sex life. Talking openly about your feelings can help make your relationship stronger.

If you have children, it’s probably best to be honest with them about the cancer. You can encourage them to talk about their worries; either with you or with a close friend or relative.

Friends or colleagues may also be unsure about what to say to you and it can be helpful to let them know what you need from them. It’s up to you how much you share about your illness and there may be times when you don’t want to talk at all. There’s no right or wrong way to act, it’s fine to deal with things in your own way.

Relationships when you have advanced cancer

Partners, family and friends are a vital source of help and support when you’re coping with advanced cancer. But it’s common to find it upsetting or painful to talk about your illness with those close to you. In many cases, they may be waiting for you to let them know how much you want to talk about your illness and your treatment.


Your partner

If you have a partner, you may find that the stresses of an uncertain future or the difficulties and side effects of treatment 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 compromises. 

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

Giving yourselves short breaks from each other may help relieve stress. Sometimes talking to someone else can help – perhaps a relative, friend or someone completely outside your situation, like a counsellor.

'Going through something like 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

Our section on relationships may provide some helpful information.

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 sexuality.

Watch our video about sexuality. Dr Isabel White talks about some of the possible effects cancer and its treatment can have on your sexuality.

Sex life

Sex can still be part of your life if you have advanced cancer, although you may find that you and your partner need a period of readjustment. For example, even if you don’t feel like having sex, 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 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 will be used to having these types of conversations and may be able to help. There are also a number of organisations that can help couples who are having problems with their sex life.

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 very difficult to talk to your children or grandchildren about cancer. It’s probably best to be honest with them and tell them the cancer has come back or spread. Even very young children will sense when something is seriously wrong. 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’re going to die. If the cancer is likely to be controlled for a long time, it’s important to tell them this. If the cancer is more advanced, it’s helpful to sensitively prepare them for your death. Obviously this can be a very difficult thing to do and you may need help and support.

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 is for teenagers who have a parent with cancer.

We have more information about how to talk to children if you’re not going to recover.


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.

It’s up to you to tell them as much or as little as you want about your health. You may not want to talk about cancer all the time, and you may rely on your friends to carry on as usual and distract you.

They will probably welcome it if you can tell them what you want or need from them. This might be help around the house, or asking them to drive you to hospital appointments.

Our section on if someone you know has cancer has tips for friends and colleagues on how they can offer you practical support.

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’re 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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