How Cancer Can Affect Your Family

Approved by the Lineagotica Editorial Board, 06/2019

Cancer affects everyone in your family. But how it affects each person may differ. You may notice that your family routine changes during treatment. And your relationships with your family might also change.

Cancer and your parents

Your parents might seem overprotective or try to take charge, whether you live at home or have not lived with them for years. They might ask a lot of questions or give advice you did not ask for. If your parents act this way, it might help to remember that they probably did these things for many years when you were younger. Also, they are coping with their own feelings about your cancer.

Talking with your parents

Try to talk honestly with your parents about your thoughts and feelings, even if it is difficult. You might want to avoid upsetting them. But sharing your emotions and telling them what you need can help you solve problems and support each other. Here are some suggestions for talking with your parents.

  • Make a list of what has changed in your relationship, both the positive and negative.

  • Decide what matters most on the list, and share those things with your parents. For example, maybe you want more privacy or more time with friends.

  • If your parents are concerned about your ability to take care of your health, try making a plan for how you will be responsible. For example, if they do not want you to keep track of your own medicines, make a chart of the dosages and times. This shows you are willing to take charge.

  • Accept help from your parents. Find ways to compromise, if necessary.

How your parents can help

As a young adult or teenager, you are either independent or becoming that way. It might feel like you are going backwards to rely on your parents again. Be honest about needing to make your own decisions, but also ask for help when you need it. Your parents likely have more experience than you in some situations, such as dealing with doctors and insurance companies. They can:

  • Help you learn about your cancer and treatment options

  • Arrange visits or phone calls from family and friends

  • Keep you company on trips to the hospital

  • Make you meals

  • Stay with you when you feel sick

  • Help you talk with your health care team or your school

Living arrangements

You might live at home with your family or have your own home. If you live alone, it might become difficult during treatment. Consider asking a parent or someone else to move in during this time. Or you might move back in with your parents for a while.

You might feel like you are giving up independence or cannot take care of yourself. But living with someone during treatment can help you meet your physical, emotional, practical, and financial needs. It also gives your family a chance to help.

Your brothers and sisters

Your brothers and sisters, or siblings, might be feeling many emotions, including concern for your health. How they respond to your cancer depends on several factors, including:

  • How close you are

  • How old they are, how mature they are for their age, and their personalities

  • How far away they live

  • Their personal way of coping with life and their relationship with you

You or your siblings might not know what to say, or they may even fear talking with you about cancer. So you might need to start the conversation. Younger siblings might not understand what is happening, but know something is different. On the other hand, a brother or sister close to your age might understand your feelings better than your parents.

No matter their age, your siblings often want to help. They can:

  • Keep you company on trips to the hospital or clinic

  • Spend time doing fun things with you that take your mind off cancer

  • Visit you at home when you do not feel well enough to go out

  • Talk and laugh about things other than cancer

  • Help you with cooking, laundry, grocery shopping, and other household tasks

  • Give other family members updates on your treatment and recovery

Try to avoid blaming yourself for any coping problems your siblings have. Siblings can sometimes feel jealous about the attention you are getting, scared that they will get cancer, or a number of other emotions that require compassion and support. If they seem overwhelmed, encourage them to seek counseling or a support group. This can help them learn healthy ways to respond to their emotions.

Learn more about cancer and siblings.

Where to find help

If you and your family are having problems dealing with the cancer, consider talking with your doctor or a counselor. Many hospitals and cancer centers have people who are trained to help families cope with cancer. Try not to blame yourself for any family problems, and do not be afraid to ask for help in coping with problems.

Related Resources

Talking With Your Spouse or Partner About Cancer

Finding Support During Cancer Treatment

Talking With Someone Who Has Cancer

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