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How Cancer Affects the Family

January 14, 2022

While a cancer diagnosis significantly impacts the patient’s life, it’s essential to acknowledge that their loved ones will also be affected. If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer, you and those close to you need to understand better how the disease and cancer treatment will affect your relationships.

By understanding what’s coming, you can mitigate some of the effects by having a plan of action and preparing others in your life for what you’ll need during the cancer treatment process.

Significant Others

A cancer diagnosis often has the biggest impact on your significant other. They’ll often experience a lot of anxiety and anger right along with you. They’ll likely feel stressed as they’ll have to take on more responsibilities in their daily lives and have new duties regarding your care.

You may see role reversals in your relationship. For example, if you organized and implemented most of your family’s daily lives, your partner may have to take over for a while. It can be challenging to give up that control.

Both you and your partner may have different physical and emotional needs during this time. Cancer can often bring couples together and create a stronger relationship, putting distance between partners.

You and your partner may also experience struggles with an unknown future. If the two of you had hoped to start a family or travel, those dreams might have to be put aside for the time being.


Cancer’s most significant emotional effects on the family are seen in children, particularly younger children and teens. While some parents opt not to tell younger children about the diagnosis, it’s difficult to hide what’s happening with kids once the cancer treatment starts.

Parents often unintentionally cause more anxiety in their children and worsen the situation by hiding what’s happening. It’s better to speak honestly with your children about what’s happening and the changes they can expect as you enter treatment. You don’t have to tell them everything, but give them enough information to keep them from worrying unnecessarily.

Minor children may have intense reactions to changes in their daily lives. For example, if you typically drive them to school each morning and the other parent assumes that duty, they may act out. You may see intense meltdowns, even in children who are no longer in the tantrum stage.

Teens may also act out. While teens seemingly don’t need as much attention, they may respond to feeling left out if the focus is no longer on them. They may also react to cover the worry they’re feeling, as they have a better grasp of the gravity of the situation.

Adult children will also experience emotional effects and anxiety over the situation. If your adult child has to become your caregiver, there will be a change in the parent-child dynamic. As a parent, you may struggle to let go of some control and let your child take care of you. Your child may also have trouble with taking the reins.

Emotional Effects of Cancer on Family and Friends

Your loved ones outside your immediate family will also experience the effects of your cancer diagnosis. They will worry about your well-being.

They may also struggle with a feeling of helplessness. When a friend or family member is diagnosed with cancer, most people want to help but aren’t sure what to do other than ask what you need.

While offering them comfort is not your burden, you can allow them to help you. While you’re undergoing cancer treatment, you’ll need to ask for help. It’ll be nearly impossible to do everything you did while healthy, so you have to accept that you’ll have to relinquish some control.

Cancer Family Support

One of the best things you can do for your family is seek cancer family support. A good support team can help you deal with the emotional burden of fighting cancer on you and your family. 

At Horizon Oncology, we’re here to help you navigate your cancer journey. Our goal is simple: to treat the whole person, not just the disease. We provide high-quality care in a delicate atmosphere of trust and concern while respecting the individual needs of our patients and their families. Contact us to learn more about our comprehensive cancer treatment services.