Supporting a family member with cancer

When someone in your family has cancer, you might find it hard to cope. Talking to each other about it can help you all cope.

Your feelings

When someone has cancer, it can affect the whole family. All families are different, and each family responds differently when someone is diagnosed with cancer.

All families deal with stress or tension at times, but a cancer diagnosis may test a family in new ways. You may have many different feelings.

If there are already relationship problems, these feelings can make them worse. But cancer can also bring families closer together as they deal with the challenge.

It is important to be honest with each other about how you feel. Your family can provide emotional support. Talking to each other about what is happening can be an important way of helping you all cope. Not talking could cause tension.

Macmillan is also here to support you. If you want to talk, you can:

Changes in your role

When someone in your family is diagnosed with cancer, the role you have and your relationship with the person may change.

During and after treatment, the person with cancer may not have the energy to do things they did before. You and other family members may have to do those things instead. Or you may have to adjust to new roles. These changes may mean you have less time for other things, such as:

  • social activities
  • work
  • spending time as a family.

If life is becoming very busy, it may help to write down a list of priorities. As a family, you can plan what things are most important. Try to split any tasks between family members, so you can support each other.

It is important for the person with cancer to have a role too. They may want to support other family members, as well as getting support themselves. You might find using a communication plan helps organise everyone and prevent confusion.

We have information about sharing the caring responsibilities.

If your parent has cancer

If your parent has cancer, you may find yourself looking after them for the first time. For example, you might help them wash or get dressed.

Having to care for your parent in ways you have not done before might cause lots of different emotions. For example, you or your parent may feel:

  • anxious
  • embarrassed
  • resentful.

It can help to share responsibility for looking after your parent with siblings or other family members. This can sometimes cause arguments about who does what or who makes certain decisions. It can help to split the responsibilities clearly, so each person knows what to do.

If you need help with caring for your parent, Age UK and Citizens Advice can support you.

You might find it helpful to talk to other carers. You can use our Online Community forum to talk to other carers and share your experience of looking after someone with cancer.

Young carers

If you are under 18 and looking after someone with cancer, you are a young carer. It may be your:

  • mum or dad
  • brother or sister
  • aunt or uncle
  • grandparent
  • friend
  • guardian.

This can be very hard and may affect your life in many ways. Carers Trust have information for young carers.

How you can help with treatment decisions

The person with cancer may want to talk to you about their treatment options. Their doctor may have spoken to them about different options.

Talking to them about these choices can help you understand their thoughts and feelings. But any decisions about treatment are theirs.

Having information may make you or the person with cancer feel more in control. It is important to remember that your information needs might be different from theirs. Some people may want to:

  • know as much as possible about the cancer and treatment
  • only want to know enough to make decisions about treatment and how to cope with it
  • choose not to know very much at all.

It can be useful to talk about how you can manage this. It is best to let the person with cancer find out information when they are ready.

The best source of information about cancer treatment for the person with cancer is their healthcare team. You can also get information:

Many hospitals have information centres. These provide face-to-face information and free booklets and leaflets.

If you disagree with a treatment decision

Sometimes you may not agree with the person about treatment decisions. This can be hard for both of you. If this happens, you may find it useful to talk to the doctor or specialist nurse together. This may help both of you to understand all the options.

The person with cancer has the right to make their own choices. Try to accept this and support their decision. Sometimes this can be hard. It may help to talk about your feelings with someone else. Your GP or the person with cancer’s specialist nurse may be able to arrange for you to see a counsellor.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 31 January 2019
Next review: 31 July 2021

This content is currently being reviewed. New information will be coming soon.

Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

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