The Impacts of Cancer on Family, Friends and Children

Any serious illness such as cancer can affect a couple’s relationship, family life and friendships in so many ways. Sometimes the illness brings people closer and sometimes it creates distance.

Because cancer doesn’t discriminate, the impact of cancer on a family means many things may have to be reassessed, for example, it can depend very much on such things as, which family member is ill, the age of the children, who is responsible for the household finances, how the children will cope and many other things.

A family member with cancer can stretch the emotional resources of the rest of the immediate and extended family. Both the person with cancer and their loved ones may feel the need to protect one another from their own emotions.

However, the more openly these tough issues can be discussed, the easier it is for family members to support and trust one another. In such a case, family members may be able to work things out among themselves or they may opt for family therapy or some other third-party support.

Cancer is also an extreme situation for a patient’s loved ones, family members and friends, so they may find that they have to manage their relationship with cancer and life’s most fundamental questions.

How to tell children about cancer?

Parents diagnosed with cancer have to decide at which point they will talk about their illness to their children. Although it’s probably easier to talk to a child once one’s the initial shock has subsided.

Remember, you can’t keep cancer a secret, as children will sense the change of atmosphere, so it is good to tell them about the illness at an early stage, this gives them more time to understand the situation and to adjust gradually.

It’s also important to talk to a child about cancer objectively and honestly and bearing in mind the child’s age and level of development, you need to remember that each child will react differently to a family member having cancer.

Their initial response may fluctuate between crying and indifference, but they will, in any case, feel worried and frightened. This may be evident from possible eating disorders, sleeplessness or problems at school.

At this time children need support and togetherness, and should not be kept at a distance from the person who is ill, the most important thing is to show them that they are taken care of regardless of the situation.

They should also be reassured that their parent’s or sibling’s illness is not their fault and it is also important to ensure that children or young people get the sufficient support and scope to unburden themselves emotionally.

In addition to their parents, it’s also good if children have a safe adult who they can rely on when the situation demands. Likewise, it’s important to inform other adults, such as staff or a teacher at school, who have dealings with the child about your or a loved one’s condition.

When it comes to adolescents, a loved one’s illness can be especially difficult to deal with, as such a family crisis often coincides with big changes in their development. They are preoccupied with thoughts about their sexuality, values, questions about cancer, death, and so on.

A young person’s reactions to their parent’s illness may be extreme, involving rage, feeling ashamed or by closing up. Despite all of this, it is very important to talk about the illness openly and honestly.

If a child becomes ill

For parents, having a child diagnosed with cancer is a devastating experience; it often prompts huge feelings of guilt, even though there is nothing they could have done to prevent the illness.

In this instance, it is important to try to help the child live as normal and varied life as possible despite the illness.


For some people diagnosed with cancer, their circle of friends changes during the illness and this could be for a variety of reasons, some friends may stop being in touch because they simply don’t know what to say and are unable to face them. Or in some cases, due to stress or perhaps physical factors or if the illness and its treatment interfere with their day-to-day life, a person with cancer may find they withdraw socially. On the other hand, they may find having cancer not only alters their values and views of life but also on friendships.

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