How cancer might affect your relationships

If you are a young carer, your relationships with the people close to you may change. Try not to worry if this happens.

You might find it difficult to talk to friends about what is happening. But there are lots of positive things about talking to friends. For example, you will be able to talk to them when you are stressed or upset and they will understand if you need to cancel plans.

When someone in the family is diagnosed with cancer it can take time for everyone to come to terms with things. You might notice that people get angry or upset more often, and there may be more arguments. Try not to feel bad about this.

If other members of your family want to help out, try to let them. This gives you a break and makes them feel that they are supporting you.

If you have a partner, you could talk to them about your situation. Spending time with them can also give you a break from caring. Don’t be afraid to ask them for support.

Your relationships

Your relationships with people close to you are an important part of your life.

While you are looking after someone who has cancer, your relationships with friends and family may change. Try not to worry about this. All relationships change and develop over time. For example, your best friend now may not be the person they were when you first started school. Some relationships disappear over time, while others grow stronger. You will probably experience both. But remember there are people who will always be there for you.


Friends

Talking to friends about cancer can be difficult, and you might be scared about telling them.

When the person you look after is first diagnosed, you may be in shock. You might want to hide away. Or you might just need time to think things through, and that’s okay.

You might be worried that your friends won’t understand what you are going through. Or you may feel that if you tell them, things won’t be normal between you.

But there are lots of positive things about deciding to talk to your friends about your situation:

  • You will have someone to talk to when you are stressed or upset.
  • You won’t have to make excuses if you cancel plans with them.
  • They will understand if you are having a bad day, and will give you some space or more support.
  • You are less likely to bottle things up.

You may not want to tell all your friends straight away. But talking to one or two very close friends is a great place to start. You might have best friends who you feel you can turn to, or other friends who you feel would be the most supportive. Be prepared for your friends reacting differently – no two people are the same. Some people will be calm and simply carry on as normal. Others may not know what to say to you, and some might be upset. They may need time to take it in, just as you did.

Some friends never knew. They couldn’t support me because they didn’t realise anything was wrong. Looking back, I should have talked to them more.

Sapna, 16


Family

It is likely that the person you are looking after is your mum or dad, your brother or sister, or one of your grandparents. It could be someone who lives in your house, or who you see often.

It will take time for you all to come to terms with the cancer. The most important thing is to try to work through it together. Talking to each other and spending time together as a family can help. Doing as many as possible of the normal things you did before the cancer can also help.

Having someone in the family with cancer can cause lots of different emotions. People might get angry and upset more often, or argue with each other more. Don’t feel bad if you have arguments with your family, including the person you are looking after.

It’s also important not to do everything for the person you are looking after. They will still want to be independent if they can.

Other members of your family may also want to help, so don’t feel like you have to do everything yourself. There are lots of ways that they can help out, such as tidying the house or doing the shopping. This will give you a break, and help them feel that they are supporting you.

It is also important to remember that you don’t have to do anything you are not comfortable with. For example, the person you look after may need help getting to the toilet. If you feel uncomfortable about helping them, you should talk to them or another family member about it. You could also talk to a health or social care professional instead if that is easier.


Boyfriends and girlfriends

If you have a boyfriend or girlfriend, they may be someone else you can talk to about your situation. Spending time with them, for example going to the cinema or listening to music together, can also give you a break from being a young carer for a while. You could even ask them to help you with the extra stuff you have to do at home. They might help carry the shopping, mow the lawn, or take the dog for a walk. Don’t be afraid to ask them for support.

Being in a relationship can be fun and exciting. But if things are not going well, or if you split up, it can really hurt. This can cause more stress on top of looking after someone who has cancer.

You may feel guilty for getting upset about your relationship. You may feel that you can’t talk about it at home because it seems unimportant compared to the cancer. But what happens in the rest of your life is still important. Cancer may be a huge part of your life right now, but it’s not your whole life. Remember you can always talk to a close friend or professional about how you are feeling.

Back to If you are a young person looking after someone with cancer

Counselling

Counselling is support if you would like to talk to someone about your feelings.

Depression

You, or the person you look after, might feel very low at times.

Coping with death

Hearing that the person you are looking after is going to die can be very difficult, but there are people who can support you.