- Cancer Information
- Supporting someone with cancer
- Caring for someone with cancer
- How relationships can change
How relationships can change
Taking on a caring role often changes relationships. For many carers, a cancer diagnosis affects the established roles they have with their partner, parent, friend, dependent or adult child, or sibling. This can be challenging and hard to adjust to.
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The impact of cancer on a relationship often depends on what your relationship was like before the cancer diagnosis. You may find caring for someone strengthens your relationship with them.
For others, particularly those who had a strained relationship before the diagnosis, the pressure of a cancer diagnosis and treatment, financial worries and the demands of caring add further tension. In this case, you may find it best to share the caring role with other people so you are not the full-time carer.
It can be helpful to understand the changes that cancer can bring. Being open and honest can help you and the person you are caring for cope with any anxieties, sadness and uncertainty. This section discusses some ways a relationship may change, and how to manage any changes.
There are many carers under the age of 25 in Australia. When young adults take on a caring role for their parents, the role reversals can be difficult for both sides. Young carers may also be trying to keep up with their studies and social life with friends. The Carers Associations in each state and territory offer information and support tailored for young carers. Visit youngcarersnetwork.com.au to find out more.
Impact of caring on relationships
Caring for someone with cancer can affect relationships in many ways:
- you might have to take on new responsibilities that mean you reverse your usual roles
- the person you are caring for may feel like they have lost their independence or that you are being overprotective
- you might be worried about talking about your needs when the other person is going through cancer treatment
- you may avoid sharing your feelings because you don’t want to overwhelm the other person when they have enough to worry about
- you might need to re-evaluate your priorities and set new goals
- you might feel lonely if friends and family aren’t as supportive as you would like
- you may feel too tired to socialise or enjoy your usual activities.
Ways to manage changes
- Talk about the changes to avoid misunderstandings. Discuss ways to meet each other’s needs.
- Allow time to get used to the changes, particularly if roles have reversed.
- Set boundaries to maintain independence and allow both of you to feel in control.
- Give the person you’re caring for the chance to do things for themselves.
- If you and the person you’re caring for find it difficult to discuss your different needs without becoming defensive, consider seeing a social worker, counsellor or psychologist. They can suggest ways to approach these conversations.
- Contact a local community group or carers’ support group, visit our Online Community, listen to our podcast below or call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Podcast: Family Dynamics and Cancer
Dr Alison White, Palliative Medicine Specialist, Royal Perth Hospital, WA; Tracey Bilson, Consumer; Louise Dillon, Consumer; Louise Durham, Nurse Practitioner, Palliative Care Outpatients, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Katrina Elias, Carers Program, South Western Sydney Local Health District, NSW Health, NSW; Jessica Elliott, Social Worker, Youth Cancer Services, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Brendan Myhill, Social Worker and Bereavement Research Officer, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW; Penny Neller, Project Coordinator, National Palliative Care Projects, Australian Centre for Health Law Research, Queensland University of Technology, QLD; Olivia Palac, Acting Assistant Director, Occupational Therapy, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Nicole Rampton, Advanced Occupational Therapist, Cancer Services, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Shirley Roberts, Nurse Consultant, Medical Oncology, Northern Adelaide Cancer Centre, SA; Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko, Specialist General Practitioner, and UNSW Research Fellow, NSW; Kathleen Wilkins, Consumer; Helen Zahra, Carers Program, South Western Sydney Local Health District, NSW Health, NSW.
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