The Impact of Cancer on Family and Friends


You do not need to have cancer for the disease to have an impact on you. What should you expect when someone you know is diagnosed with cancer?

When someone is diagnosed with cancer, relatives and friends are often the forgotten ones. If that is you, then you will know that you are also affected by the disease and may require help to cope.

But you may also think you are not as deserving and important as the person with cancer. Well, the impact of cancer on all is very real, and to take care of yourself makes sense.

Often family and friends neglect their own well-being when, understandably so, a greater focus is on the care for the person with cancer.

You may even feel guilty doing something you enjoy or carrying on with some personal routines like going to work, hobbies and socializing.

If someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer, this will affect you, too. Different people have different ways of dealing with it.

You, too, may undergo a life-changing experience and find yourself on your own unique cancer journey.

The impact on family and friends can vary and be long-lasting (in no particular order):

  • Economic: You can experience financial difficulties with extra medical care and associated expenses. If the person diagnosed with cancer has to stop working, this may lead to a reduction in household income and threaten mortgage or rent payments, school fees and more.
  • Work: Employers may be more or less accommodating when you require time off or more flexible working hours.
  • Social: Friends and relatives may be unhelpful and withdraw from you and a situation in which (for whatever reason) they cannot or do not want to be more actively involved.
  • Relational: You may find it difficult to make time for others or to be emotionally available. This can lead to friction and difficulties where others depend on you (e.g. children) or are less understanding of what you might be going through.
  • Spiritual: You may experience a crisis of belief and question why your relative or friend has cancer. Indeed, you may find it difficult to get a sufficient level of spiritual energy from within.
  • Physical: You may develop new or draw on existing coping mechanisms, which in the long-run may be unhelpful and lead to new problems: eating too much or too little, smoking, drinking, drugs, exercising too little or too much and such like.
  • Emotional: The psychological and mental impact of cancer on family and friends is not to be underestimated.

Common feelings are:

Helplessness  –“There is nothing I can do to make it better or control the situation.”

Why not me? — Feeling left out and isolated when the main focus of others and medical staff seems to be on the person with cancer.

Disbelief – “When will I wake up from this nightmare?”

Bereavement and lossGrieving for the other, for life and the relationship the way you knew it.

Anger – Why is this happening to us? Why now? Why doesn’t anyone do something? You may also find yourself at the receiving end of anger and irritability by the person with cancer or other family members.

Resentment – “We were not meant to live our lives like this.” You may also feel resentment towards the person with cancer – for getting it and for not “fighting harder” against it, and towards the disease interfering with the life you hoped you would all have.

Uncertainty and fear – Over cancer treatment, the future, your ability to cope.

Blame – Was it their lifestyle, you, others who contributed to it?

Being passive – You just want it all to go away.

Feeling depressed and lacking motivation – You feel overwhelmed with no clear way out.

Cancer counseling and therapeutic support for relatives and friends can assist in dealing with such difficult experiences and emotions.

Over time this can help lighten the load, rebuild emotional energies and help you explore choices available at this difficult time.

Cancer can changes lives forever – even if you are not the one with cancer.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: Write a letter to yourself in regards to a cancer diagnosis. What would you say or wish someone had told you? Find out how to email us a story submission here.

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