When someone you care about has cancer, it is normal to experience many different feelings. Get tips and support to help you cope with these feelings.
Going through cancer can be very emotional, with many ups and downs. This is often true for the person who has cancer and the people close to them.
When someone close to you has cancer, you may have many different feelings. These feelings may come and go. You may each have good days when you feel positive, and bad days when your fears and worries are worse.
You may think you should ignore your own feelings and focus on looking after the person with cancer. But it is not good for you to ignore your feelings for a long time. You should try to take care of yourself during this stressful time. Paying attention to your feelings is an important part of this. It can help you support the person with cancer.
Below are some common feelings people have when someone they care about has cancer. There are also tips for what can help you cope with these feelings.
To start with, you may:
- find the news hard to take in
- think it cannot be true
- feel numb
- find it hard to show how you feel.
This is natural. It can take time to understand the news and get over the shock.
Anxiety and uncertainty
You will probably feel:
- anxious about what is happening
- unsure about how you will cope.
Cancer can take away your feelings of control. Feeling uncertain about the future can be one of the hardest things to deal with.
It can help to recognise when you feel like this. Try to focus on the things you can change or control. For example, it may help to follow a routine. Or you might make positive lifestyle changes that can make you feel better, such as eating a healthy diet.
You might try to deny what is happening, because you just want to continue as normal. You might find it hard to accept that someone close to you has cancer. This is a normal reaction. Denial is a way of coping and may give you some time to adjust. But if it lasts for weeks or months, it can become a problem. A partner, family members or friends may try to talk to you about this if they are worried about you. Denial can stop you getting the help you need.
If you are struggling, take some time to think about your needs. Then think about what support you would like from other people.
If the person close to you is diagnosed with advanced cancer, you may both find it hard to accept. By dealing with this, you may be able to support each other.
Grief and loss
You may feel grief and loss for the life you both had before cancer. You may also grieve because you have lost a sense of certainty about the future. It is important to let yourself grieve for these losses. It can take time to come to terms with them.
Sadness is a natural feeling when someone close to you has cancer. You will probably feel sad for the person who is ill, and wish it was not happening.
Everyone has good and bad days. Do not expect to feel positive or happy all the time. Sadness can come and go. You may feel sad even at times when you would usually enjoy yourself.
But if you feel sad for a few weeks or more, you may be depressed. Symptoms of depression include:
- feeling sad or numb for a few weeks or more
- struggling to enjoy things you usually enjoy
- sleeping problems
- difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
If you think you or the person with cancer may be depressed, talk to your GP. There are treatments that can help. You can also contact a support organisation.
Many people feel angry. This is a normal reaction. You may be angry at people you are close to. There are different reasons for being angry. It may be because:
- this has happened to a person you care about, and to you
- the cancer has changed your lives
- you are trying to cope with too much
- the anger is covering other feelings, such as sadness, fear or anxiety.
Talking to someone about how you feel can stop anger building up. If you find it hard to control your anger, look out for signs you are getting angry. When you feel you are getting angry, try:
- counting to 10
- breathing deeply
- walking away from the situation.
If someone close to you is unwell, you may feel resentful at times. It is natural to feel like this. You may not have much time to do the things you enjoy, or to see your friends. The person with cancer may be moody or withdrawn at times. They may not notice the things you are doing for them. Or they may be irritable, especially if they are in pain.
Many people take out their fear or anxiety on the person closest to them. This can be hard to deal with. If someone does this to you, you may feel unwanted and resentful. Try to talk to them and explain how you feel. You could choose a time when you are both having a good day. Or you may find it easier to talk about your feelings with someone else.
Try not to let feelings of anger and resentment build up. Try to understand how the other person feels. This may stop your anger and irritation building into an argument.
Feeling guilty is common. You may feel guilty about:
- being well when the person you care about has cancer
- finding it hard to cope
- whether you are doing enough to help
- not having a good relationship with the person in the past
- feeling resentful if your own needs are not being met
- not being able to give as much time to other roles, such as being a parent, partner or employee.
When you feel guilty, it is common to hide your feelings. This can make it hard for people to understand what you are going through. If you feel guilty, talk about it with someone you trust. They may help you see things differently.
When someone close to you has cancer, you may feel like you are on your own. You may feel other people do not understand what you are going through. People may not know about all the things you have to do. It may help to explain this to them.
People often have different ways of showing their feelings when someone close to them has cancer. Sometimes this may lead to confusion.
It helps to remember that everyone reacts differently. Some people find it easy to talk about their feelings. But not everyone is comfortable with this. People may show their feelings in other ways. They may show they care by:
- hugs, touch and cuddles
- doing helpful things, like cooking a meal or looking after the house
- giving gifts
- sitting quietly with the person they care about if they need it.
Sometimes people do not want to talk about their feelings in case it upsets others. But it is okay to be sad or upset. This is a natural reaction when someone you care about has cancer.
It may help to talk about what is happening and how you are feeling. Talking about your thoughts and feelings can:
- relieve tension by stopping your worries building up
- reassure you that your feelings are normal and you are not alone
- help you understand how you are feeling and why
- help you work out what is important to you
- help you find the answer to a problem
- allow you to feel closer to your partner, family or friends.
It is a good idea to talk to someone other than the person with cancer. This will take some pressure off both of you. The person you talk to could be a partner, family member, close friend or spiritual advisor. Or you may find it easier to talk to someone you do not know.
If your feelings are affecting your day-to-day life, talking to a professional may help. You can ask your GP about how to get counselling or see a psychologist. A counsellor or psychologist helps you talk about your feelings. They may also help you change the way you are thinking.
We have more information about talking to the person with cancer.
Telling other people about the cancer
You and the person with cancer may both need time to adjust before telling anyone else. This is normal. But telling other people means you can all get the extra support you need.
The person with cancer may find it hard to tell others. It is their decision when to share their diagnosis. But if you are close to them, you may also need support.
Try talking to them about why it would help you to have support from other people. They might agree to you telling a family member or close friend. Or they might set a date for telling other people, for example after test results come back.
Contacting family members or friends after test results or doctor’s appointments can be tiring. If you do not feel you can do this yourself, you could ask someone you both know and trust to do it. Ask the person with cancer what they want other people to know.
Telling children and teenagers
Deciding what to tell children and teenagers about cancer is hard. We have lots of information to help you talk to children of all ages.
Macmillan Support Line
You can contact the Macmillan Support Line:
- to ask questions about cancer
- simply for someone to listen to you.
You can contact the Macmillan Support Line for free on 0808 808 00 00, 7 days a week 8am - 8pm. If our support line is closed, you can call Samaritans on 116 123. Its confidential helpline is open 24 hours a day.
Counselling can help you talk about your feelings. It is a type of talking therapy. At your appointment you can talk to a trained counsellor, who will listen and support you without judging you. Counsellors do not usually give advice or tell you what to do. The counsellor can help you:
- cope with changes in your relationships
- think about what is important to you
- deal with practical problems
- find new ways of coping.
You may be offered:
- one session of counselling a
- short course of sessions over a few weeks or months
- a longer course that lasts for several months or years.
It can take a number of sessions, but you should slowly start to feel better with the help and support of your counsellor. Counselling can happen:
- face to face
- in a group
- over the phone
- by email
- through live chat services.
Some GPs, hospitals and cancer treatment centres have their own counsellors, or they can refer you to one. If your employer has an employee assistance programme (EAP), you can often contact a counsellor that way. Ask your employer for more information about this.
Counselling may be free, or you may need to pay for it. This is more likely if you see a counsellor long term.
For more information about finding a counsellor:
- call the Macmillan Support Line for free on 0808 808 00 00, 7 days a week 8am - 8pm.
- contact the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Most areas of the UK have cancer support groups for carers, partners, family members and friends. These are usually led by people who may be in a similar position to you, sometimes with support from a healthcare professional. A group usually includes people who have experience of different types and stages of cancer. You may find this helps you see your own problems from a different point of view.
Some people find groups very helpful and get support from other members. But others find it uncomfortable to talk about personal issues with strangers. Do not worry if support groups are not right for you. There are other ways to get support.
Getting support online
You could join an online support group or chat room for carers, family members and friends.
You can share your own thoughts and feelings by posting messages for others to read and reply to. Or you can just read other people’s comments or posts. These messages can sometimes be helpful. They can also be sad and difficult to read. It may help to know other people feel like you do. You may feel less alone and learn how other people cope.
This might be helpful for you if you find it hard to talk face to face. Online groups are also easy to leave. You do not need to say why you are leaving.
The Macmillan Online Community offers this type of support. It is quick and easy to join. You can talk to people in our chat rooms, blog about your experiences, make friends and join support groups.
Spiritual and religious support
Some people find that they have more spiritual or religious feelings during stressful times. This may be because they have questions about their faith and beliefs. Or it may be because they get comfort from their faith.
It might help you to talk to someone, such as a hospital chaplain or a religious leader. Even if you are not sure about what you believe, or do not worship regularly, you can still talk to them. Spiritual and religious leaders are used to dealing with uncertainty. They are usually happy to listen, talk and to give support and comfort.
If you find it hard to talk, writing about your feelings can help you express how you feel. If you are worried about things, writing them down may help you stop thinking about them. It also helps you come back to them another time when you feel ready. You could try:
- Keeping a diary
- using social media
- joining our the Macmillan Online Community
- writing down how you feel and what makes it worse or better:
|How I am feeling today||I am feeling angry|
|What makes this feeling worse||Sitting on my own and thinking|
|What makes this feeling better||Going out for a long walk|