Your relationship with the person you care for

Whether you care for a family member, partner, friend or neighbour, you may find cancer affects your relationship.

Every relationship is different, but these general tips can sometimes help:

  • Try to be open and honest with each other. You may both be trying to protect one another and find it hard to show your true feelings. There will be good days and bad days, but talking about how you feel could help.
  • It is important to keep nurturing the relationship you had with one another before the cancer. Try to be understanding and supportive.
  • Try to keep a routine and sense of normality.
  • Try to be yourself. Behaving differently can make the person you care for feel more aware of the condition they have.
  • Patience and humour can be really important – don’t be afraid to laugh.
  • Let the person you care for know that although you are there to help, they are still in control. Make sure they always have a choice in decisions that affect them.

Macmillan has online courses that may improve the way you communicate with the person you care for, and your family and friends. Visit LearnZone to find out more.

Caring for a family member

You may be looking after a parent, grandparent, brother or sister or child. Caring for them may mean a big change in your relationship with one another.

For example, if you are looking after a parent with cancer, you may both feel as though your roles have been reversed. You are now looking after them, rather than the other way around. You may miss the old relationship you had with them, and find it hard to see them struggle. But for some people, caring for a parent can be a chance to grow closer to them again.

If you are caring for your child who has cancer, the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group have more information to help support you.

I felt like the man of the house because my mum’s a single parent. She ran the house herself, so when mum became incapable of doing that I had to take over.

Ben, who cared for his mum Deanne

Caring for your partner

Looking after your partner could affect different aspects of your relationship. This could include your everyday roles and responsibilities, and your plans for the future.

If you or your partner feel that you need help with your relationship, you may find it helpful to talk to a professional, such as a counsellor. You could speak with your GP about this or talk to a local cancer support centre if you have one, such as a Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Centre. Or you might find it helpful to join a local support group.

You could also contact the charity Relate.

Your sex life

If you are caring for your partner, it is normal for your sex life and how you both feel about sex to be affected. However, sex may be one of the things that brings normality to your lives. Talking openly to your partner about how they feel can help.

If cancer or its treatment are causing side effects, such as pain or sickness, they may not feel like having sex. They may need time to recover. Their cancer nurse may be able to suggest things that could help with difficulties having sex.

If treatment has changed how your partner looks, it may affect how they feel about their body. This is sometimes called body image.

Remember that doctors and nurses will have experience of talking to other carers and people with cancer about sensitive issues like sex. If you feel comfortable, talk to them about any concerns. They can give you advice on how your sex life may be affected and things that may help you.

We have more information about cancer and your sex life. We have information for women and information for men.

You see things that you shouldn’t have to see and do things for the people you love that you shouldn’t have to do. But you do them, that’s how you get through it.

Jayne, who cared for her husband Paul

Caring for a friend or neighbour

If you are looking after a friend or neighbour, you may find yourself giving more support as time goes on. You may be happy to offer this help, but if it gets too much, your relationship with them may be affected.

Try to talk to them honestly about how much you feel able to help. If you are worried because you feel you are the only person who can help them, it can help to mention this to their family, doctor or social worker when you see them. As their carer, you can ask that the person has a community care assessment (also called a needs assessment). This means that social services will assess them and decide how to meet their needs. The person who is ill or their family can also request this.

Being a carer can also affect your relationship with other people close to you, such as your family and friends.

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