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, and this can be a challenging adjustment.

The effect of cancer on a relationship varies, and the impact often depends on what your relationship was like before the cancer diagnosis. Some carers find the opportunity to care for someone strengthens the relationship with the person they are looking after.

For others, particularly those who had a strained relationship before the diagnosis, the pressure of a cancer diagnosis and treatment 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 potential changes that cancer can bring. This chapter discusses ways a relationship may change, and how to manage these changes.

        — Read more about Ross’ story

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How cancer will change your relationship

  • I might need to take on new responsibilities that will reverse our roles.
  • If I’m doing all the caring, they may feel like they’ve lost their independence.
  • I may feel like it would be selfish to talk about my needs when they are having to go through cancer treatment.
  • The intimacy we shared might be replaced by the caring role.
  • We might need to re-evaluate our priorities and set new goals.

Ways to manage changes in your relationship

  • 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.
  • Arrange home help if you feel uncomfortable doing the bathing and dressing.
  • Give the person you’re caring for the chance to do things for themselves.
  • Use touch to show you care.

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Cancer information

What is cancer?
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Emotions and cancer
Here are some suggestions for managing the physical effects of the diagnosis, coping with the diagnosis, as well as how to get support.

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