Relationships with people close to you

It may be difficult to talk about your illness with partners, family and friends. They may be unsure how to talk to you or wait for you to talk about it first. Some may avoid talking about your illness because they do not want to seem insensitive.

If you have a partner, your relationship may be affected. Talking about what is happening and how you feel can help you both feel less alone.

It can be hard to talk to young children or grandchildren about cancer. We have information about talking to children and teenagers when an adult has cancer and preparing a child for loss.

It can help to tell people close to you how they can help you. For example, if you need help with housework, cooking or driving to hospital appointments. You can also tell them if you need distractions from thinking about the cancer.

They may be times where you do not want to talk about how you feel. This is normal. There is no right or wrong way to feel. People deal with it differently.

Partners, family and friends

Partners, family and friends can be an important source of support when you are coping with advanced cancer. But it can be very upsetting or painful to talk about your illness with people you are close to. Your family and friends may not be sure how much you want to talk about your illness and treatment. They may be waiting for you to talk about it.

If you find talking about your situation difficult, we have information which you may find helpful.

When someone has a serious illness, many people are unsure what to say. Some people may try to avoid you rather than risk saying the wrong thing. Some people may avoid discussing your illness or may seem insensitive. We have more information to help your family and friends talk about your illness and be able to support 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.


Your partner

If you have a partner, you may find that your relationship is affected by:

  • the stresses of an uncertain future
  • any side effects of treatment
  • other difficulties.

There may be times when you do not get on well. Some couples find that problems are harder to resolve because they feel they have less time to deal with them.

Sometimes people avoid talking about how they feel as they do not want to upset the other person. But talking about what is happening and how you feel can help you both feel less alone. Some people find their relationship becomes stronger if they can be open about the situation and their feelings.

For some couples, having a short break from each other may help relieve stress. You may find that other ways to help relieve stress work better for you. For example, this may be doing some physical activity. Sometimes talking to someone outside of your situation can help. This may be a relative, a friend or a counsellor.


Having advanced cancer can affect how you feel about your sexuality. This will depend on the type of cancer you have. Treatment and side effects can also affect sexuality. But having cancer does not 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 to adjust to some changes. This adjustment may take some time. You may not feel like having sex, or you may be unable to. But there are still intimate and affectionate ways of showing how much you care about each other.

Partners may sometimes worry that having sex could harm you or make the cancer worse. Or they may worry that they could catch the cancer. But neither of these things are true. 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, 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. These include Relate and the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists. Your GP, practice nurse, community nurse, Macmillan nurse or palliative care nurse may also be able to help you find someone.

It might be important to avoid getting pregnant or fathering a child. This depends on what treatment you are having. Ask your specialist doctor or nurse for advice if you are thinking about having a baby.

We have more information about cancer and sexuality for men and women.

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.


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

Family support services

You may find it hard to know what to say to your children or grandchildren. Many hospices have family support services, which offer support to families of people with advanced cancer. Your community nurse, Macmillan nurse or GP may be able to refer your family, including any children, for this service.

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. It is usually best to be honest with them and tell them your cancer has come back or spread. You may feel like you want to protect them. But if you pretend everything is okay, they may feel they are not able to talk about their worries. 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 tell them at a time when you are with other adults. This may be a partner, family or close friends. Then the children will know there are other adults they can talk to and who can support them. It is important they know who they can talk to if they have questions or need to talk.

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 is helpful to sensitively prepare them for your death. This can be a difficult thing to do and you may need help and support. It is usually a good idea to let the nursery or school know what is happening. That way they can support your child or children too.

We have more information about how to prepare children for the loss of a parent.


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 may feel over-burdened. It is 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. This might be a grandparent, family friend, teacher or counsellor. It can often help to tell the teacher about your situation so they know what is going on. They can look out for any signs of difficulties your child may be having. If your child is working, you can encourage them to tell their employer.

They may also find it useful to look at the website It was developed for teenagers who have a parent with cancer.

We have more information about talking to children and teenagers about cancer.

Friends and colleagues

Some friends and colleagues will feel unsure about how to talk to you. They may wait for you to talk about it first before they say anything.

You can tell friends and colleagues as much or as little as you want about your health. You will probably not want to talk about your cancer all the time. You may find it helpful for your friends to treat you the same way as usual. For some people, having a standard answer can be helpful to direct the conversation in a way you would prefer.

Your friends and colleagues will probably find it helpful if you can tell them how they can help you. For example, this might include helping with housework or driving you to hospital appointments. Or you may want your friends to help to distract you, if your thoughts are focused on the cancer.

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 do not want to talk

There may be times when you do not feel like talking and want to be on your own. This is quite natural. So don’t feel that you have to see people if you need time to yourself.

If you want to have some time alone, you could ask other people to answer the door or 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 your nurses to help you with this.

If you would still like to receive texts or emails from others, let them know. But explain that you might not always be able to reply.

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

Back to Relationships and advanced cancer

Preparing yourself

Before talking to your children, you may need some time to cope with your own feelings about being told you will not recover from cancer.

Preparing a child for loss

It can be very hard telling your children that you are not going to get better. Being honest with them can help them cope.

Making a memory box

Making a box filled with special things can help your children or other loved ones to remember times that you spent together.