Coping With Life Changes

Senior couple at home with husband caring for wife in wheelchair

Cancer can bring about many changes in all parts of your life, including at work, home, or school. You may notice that your roles and responsibilities have changed. It is also common for people impacted by cancer to worry about the future. Discover tips to help you manage these life changes.

Home, Work, or School Life 

A cancer diagnosis can change your life and the lives of people around you. Some of these changes will be temporary and some may be more long-lasting. For some, the changes will make relationships stronger. In other cases, especially when relationships were already stressed, a cancer diagnosis can create more problems. Let’s face it — change is hard. You have had to face many changes in your life with cancer and undoubtedly you worry about how those changes impact your family, friends, and work or school colleagues.

Changing Roles

It is often said that cancer affects the whole family. Family and friends may need to take on new roles and responsibilities while you are going through treatment. For example, children might be asked to do different chores; a spouse or partner may need to find work to help pay bills; or a co-worker might need to take on some of your duties. People may have trouble adjusting to these new roles and you may have trouble giving up certain roles — even if only for a short while. All this can lead to worry and stress for you and your family.

Ask for Help

Most of us are uncomfortable asking for or receiving help from others. People close to you will likely want to help, but they might not know what you need or how to ask you. They may offer help with things that you want and can do yourself.

Be specific, direct, and clear about what you need. Try not to make assumptions about who will help and who will not. Prepare a list of tasks that people can do for you. This list can include anything that you and your family need. For example, it may include transportation to treatment, keeping you company while you recover from surgery, managing a project at work, dog walking, or communicating medical updates to others.

Organize Help Among Friends & Family

Our free digital support community offers a scheduling tool that can help you coordinate help with tasks.

Workplace Concerns

It can be hard to talk about your cancer in your workplace. Some companies are supportive of employees with cancer. They may help by accommodating for missed workdays and shifting job responsibilities. Laws are in place to protect you if you are treated unfairly because of a cancer diagnosis or treatment. To receive job protection, you must tell your employer about your cancer.

If you are worried about how to navigate cancer and the workplace, there are people who can help you. You can ask your healthcare team to connect you to an oncology social worker. You can also contact our Cancer Support Helpline for resources at 888-793-9355 or online via our live web chat service.

Communicating at Work, Home, and School

Without good communication, misunderstandings can happen. Everyone can become frustrated and feel isolated at a time when they need connection. No one can read your mind. It is important to let others know what you are thinking and feeling. It is also important to listen to others because they will have their own ideas and feelings about your diagnosis.

Talking about feelings can be hard. Speak honestly and listen carefully. This can strengthen relationships at work, home, or school. If you are having a hard time talking with people, or if others don’t seem to want to communicate with you, consider asking for help from a counselor, social worker, or religious leader, or by joining a local support group.

Relationships

A cancer diagnosis can challenge even the most solid relationships. People with cancer can often feel alone or that no one understands what they are going through. Their loved ones may feel helpless and unsure of what to say or do. It is important that you stay connected with your spouse or partner during this time, but it is common for relationships to be stressed because of cancer and treatment. There are steps you and your loved one can take to help your relationship.

Communication Is Key

We often think that those who love us can anticipate our needs and wants. In reality, they can’t read our minds. It is important to share your thoughts and feelings and listen to each other. Be open and honest when communicating with your spouse or partner. Ask them to do the same. Let them know if something they are doing is making you feel more isolated or stressed. Do the same for them. Open communication can bring you closer and improve and deepen your relationship.

Try to avoid generalizations like “You never…” Instead, use “I” statements to explain how you feel. For example, “When I see all of the things that have to happen this week, I feel overwhelmed.” Improved communication can have a positive effect on your relationship in general. It can also help solve many of the problems you will face as part of your cancer experience.

Changing Roles

Couples may experience many changes in their relationship because of a cancer diagnosis. Changes in roles and responsibilities are common. They may include childcare, housework, paying bills, working outside the home, or providing physical care. These changes can feel overwhelming and frustrating. They can also cause feelings of sadness and loss. However, changes can also lead to a better understanding of your partner’s experience and make you more appreciative of one another.

Talk to your partner about how you are feeling. This will keep you connected and ease the sense of isolation either partner can feel. Set aside a “date night” or other time to be together as a couple. Do something fun for just the 2 of you.

Reach Out for Support

Above all, know that many couples navigate cancer and its treatment well. Of course, as in any relationship during stressful times, there will be ups and downs. It may be helpful to seek counseling for you and your partner. Talk with your healthcare provider, clergy, or oncology social worker for suggestions about finding the support that you need.

Find a caring and supportive Cancer Support Community location near you.

Worries About the Future

It is common for people facing a serious illness to worry about the future and what lies ahead. A diagnosis of cancer brings many changes. These changes can be physical and emotional. For some, these changes will be spiritual. Others may reflect on the meaning of their lives and what really matters to them.

People touched by cancer often talk about experiencing 3 feelings: loss of control, unwanted aloneness, and loss of hope. All these feelings can cause worry and uncertainty about the future. This is a common reaction to the roller coaster that is the cancer experience. Above all, know that it is okay, and even a good idea, to make plans for the future. Keep moving ahead, one step at a time. It is okay to feel overwhelmed at times about your worries for the future. Remember that even before you were diagnosed, you might have worried about the future.

Reach Out for Support

If you find that you are extremely anxious about the future, reach out to a trusted friend, clergy person, or mental health professional. Share your concerns with your oncologist, oncology nurse, or oncology social worker. Some fears and concerns may be cleared up through a better understanding of your cancer and its treatment. If needed, your oncologist may prescribe medications that can reduce the stress and anxiety you are feeling. Your healthcare team can also refer you to a trained counselor with experience in cancer and worry. 

Take Time to Reflect and Make Changes

A diagnosis of cancer can make some people feel out of control of their body and their life. Having questions about the meaning of one’s life is also normal. Spending some time thinking about this topic may help you discover new goals, priorities, and possibilities. People with cancer often find that this is a chance to focus on what really matters and make positive life changes. This can be a time to reconnect with the many ways your life matters to you and to make the changes that are important to you.

Spending more time with family and friends is a common change people make in their lives. For others, they might decide to complete a project they had started, but never finished. This might be a scrapbook or house project. Still others decide to act on something they have always wanted to do, like taking up a new hobby or traveling. There is no right answer that works for everyone. For each person, the decision to make any changes is personal.

Contact Our Helpline

We offer free navigation for cancer patients or their loved ones by phone.