Relationships with Others

Your network of support—your relationships at home, at work and elsewhere—make a difference in your life. These relationships can contribute to feelings of anger, sadness and loneliness; or feelings of comfort, love and support. Your relationships with others can change after treatment, and it is important to stay aware of how your experience affects you and your: 
  • Family 
  • Friends 
  • Intimate partners 
  • Co-workers
Your friends and family may want to help, but don’t know how. It can be useful to put together a list of tasks where the help would be appreciated.

Family Relationships Can be Stressful Due To...
  • The need to switch roles from caring for others to being cared for yourself 
  • Your wish to protect your children from the fears and stresses of your cancer 
  • Your need for more practical help—and sometimes disappointment with the help you receive 
  • For the 5% to 10% of families that have an inherited cancer syndrome, a sense of guilt that you may have passed on a high risk of cancer to your children.
You hope and expect that your family members will be your greatest source of support. But even loving families can add to the stress of learning to be a cancer survivor. Sometimes you continue to try to be a protector and caretaker, even when you long for some care for yourself. Cancer survivors often comment that others simply do not understand how draining treatment can be on all levels—physically, psychologically, emotionally. This is often why people affected by cancer find it difficult to ask for and receive help. Attending support groups, couples workshops, family counseling, educational programs, and religious retreats are very helpful for finding new ways to cope and communicate.

Impact on Younger Children

Children understand the world through their parents. How a child reacts depends very much on how the parents or other close adults are dealing with their own feelings. Difficulty in discussing these issues may create distance in relationships that were once close.

It is helpful for parents to explain the facts in a way that allows children to understand and participate in what is happening in their lives. For example, including children in discussions about treatments lets them feel they are contributing without giving them too much responsibility. Children cannot be shielded from all of the stressful parts of life, so it is important to teach them how to cope with new challenges. 

Signs to watch for that suggest a child could use some outside help:
  • Changes in a child’s sleeping patterns
  • A drop in school grades 
  • Unusual misbehavior in school
  • Getting in arguments or fights with friends
  • Emotional withdrawal
You can always promise to be honest, open and loving to your children. The National Cancer Institute’s free booklet, When Someone in Your Family Has Cancer, can help families start difficult discussions.
(Call 1-800-4-CANCER)

Friends and Co-Workers
Many people living with cancer continue working throughout their treatment. Some work part-time and return to full¬time work after completing treatment. If you work outside the home as a volunteer or employee, much of your time will be spent with co¬-workers. Your co¬workers can have a large influence on your emotional health and well-being.

Cancer can show us which friends and co¬workers are truly caring and dependable, and which are not there when we need them. Sometimes having cancer also brings precious new friends—those you meet in the hospital or in a support group.

Lack of support at work can cross a legal line into unfair treatment. If you think you are being treated unfairly because of your cancer, you may find help from the legal resources listed at the end of this session. There are three federal laws that provide some protections and benefits for people with cancer and family caregivers:
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act 
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act 
  • The Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

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