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Impact on family and friends

After treatment is over, your family and friends may also need time to adjust. Research shows that carers can also have high levels of distress, even when treatment has finished.

Your cancer diagnosis may make people around you think about their own priorities and goals. And, like you, they may be concerned about the cancer coming back. Let your family and friends know that you understand it is hard for them as well. You may want to tell them how much you appreciate all they have already done to help you. If you still need support, let them know how it would be best for them to provide it.

People close to you can have a range of reactions when your cancer treatment ends. They may feel:

  • relieved that you’re okay
  • convinced that everything will go straight back to normal for you
  • happy to focus on others and themselves again
  • confused, especially if your relationship has changed
  • upset that they are not in regular contact with the health care team
  • pleased that cancer is no longer the main topic of conversation
  • worried about what the future holds
  • afraid that every little ache or pain means that the cancer has returned
  • scared they will get cancer themselves
  • a need to protect you and not let you do things for yourself.

Encourage your family and friends to seek support. They can call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or the Carer Gateway on 1800 422 737.

Download our booklet ‘Caring for Someone with Cancer’

Will my family have a higher risk of cancer?

If you’ve had cancer, it doesn’t mean that your children will also get it. Most cancers are caused by a build-up of abnormal cells. These cell changes cannot be passed on to your children, so they won’t have a higher than normal risk of developing cancer.

However, having a strong family history of cancer may increase the risk of developing some cancers. This may be caused by inheriting a faulty gene linked to cancer, or by shared environmental or lifestyle factors. A family history of cancer means that there are a number of closely related family members diagnosed with the same cancer or with more than one cancer, often at a younger age.

Only about 5% of all cancers are  linked to inherited faulty genes. If you are concerned about this, talk to your doctor. They may refer you to a family cancer clinic or genetic counselling service.

When others don’t understand

After treatment finishes, your family and friends may not fully understand what you’ve been through. They may expect you to act the same as you did before the cancer. If your outlook and priorities have changed, people close to you may be confused, disappointed, worried or frustrated. Family roles and responsibilities may have changed during treatment, and you may need to discuss these changes.

Friends and family may say things like “but you look fine” and “the cancer has gone, hasn’t it?” It’s natural for them to want the distress and disruption of cancer to go away.

Your family and friends may have difficulty accepting that you still need support or that some treatment side effects can persist for a long time or never go away. They care about you and want you to be well. However, if you find their reactions difficult to handle, you might like to talk to them about how you’re feeling. Ask for their support and patience. It may help to tell them that your recovery is ongoing, and that you need time to adjust to what you’ve been through and work out the next steps.

Coping with children’s needs

Like many adults, children may struggle with the changes to family life after a cancer diagnosis. They may worry about the future or find it difficult to understand why life can’t go back to the way it was.

Talking to children about cancer can be difficult. Children’s reactions and needs will vary depending on their age. But most young people find honest discussions reassuring.

Tips for talking with children

  • Try to be as open and honest as possible.
  • Acknowledge the impact of cancer on your family. This is particularly important for teenagers. Canteen can help young people aged 12–25 cope with life after a cancer diagnosis in the family.
  • Depending on the age and understanding of the children, talk to them about your fears (e.g. anxiety before a follow-up visit). This may encourage children to talk about their own fears.
  • Be open about how you feel, so the children understand if you’re not bouncing back.
  • Spend time together doing things they enjoy.
  • Explain any changes made to your family’s lifestyle. Let your children know if these are going to be permanent.

Download our booklet ‘Talking to Kids About Cancer’

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed November 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: Prof Michael Jefford, Medical Oncologist and Director, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Lucy Bailey, Nurse Counsellor, Cancer Council Queensland; Philip Bullas, Consumer; Dr Kate Gunn, Clinical Psychologist and Senior Research Fellow, Department of Rural Health, University of South Australia, SA; Rosemerry Hodgkin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Prof David Joske, Clinical Haematologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and Clinical Professor of Medicine, The University of Western Australia, WA; Kim Kerin-Ayres, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Cancer Survivorship, Concord Hospital, NSW; Sally Littlewood, Physiotherapist, Seymour Health, VIC; Georgina Lohse, Social Worker, GV Health, VIC; Melanie Moore, Exercise Physiologist and Clinical Supervisor, University of Canberra Cancer Wellness Clinic, ACT; June Savva, Senior Clinician Dietitian, Nutrition and Dietetics, Monash Cancer Centre, Monash Health, VIC; Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko, Specialist General Practitioner and Research Fellow, University of New South Wales, NSW; Prof Janette Vardy, Medical Oncologist, Concord Cancer Centre and Professor of Cancer Medicine, The University of Sydney, NSW; Lyndell Wills, Consumer.

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