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A cancer diagnosis affects everyone in your family: your partner, your parents, your siblings, and your children. It also affects your friends. How these relationships change depends on each person’s coping style.
When managing your relationships during this time, do not be afraid to ask your family and friends for help. This helps the people who care for you feel that they are providing you with valuable support.
Because your partner is a primary source of support, a cancer diagnosis may affect this relationship more than others. Young adults typically do not expect a partner to face a life-threatening illness at such a young age. A cancer diagnosis may be overwhelming for your partner. Both individuals may experience some of the following feelings:
The effects of cancer vary from couple to couple. Most couples will experience changes in many aspects of their relationship. These can include changes in roles and responsibilities, sexuality, intimacy, parenting, and plans for the future.
For many couples, facing the challenges of cancer together strengthens their relationship. Uncertainty about the future can reinforce a couple's love and commitment. It may allow them to reevaluate their priorities and reinforce the importance of their partnership. In other situations, a cancer diagnosis can strain the relationship. For these reasons, it is important for you and your partner to talk about your concerns and challenges with each other. It may also help to talk with a counselor if cancer is causing stress in your relationship.
You may feel that your parents become overprotective or try to take charge, even if you have not lived with them for many years. They may want to talk to you frequently, ask a lot of questions, or give unsolicited advice. It is natural for your parents to want to protect you and take care of you because that was their role for many years. Your parents are also dealing with their own emotions surrounding your cancer diagnosis, as well as those of your siblings and other family members.
Your siblings’ responses to cancer will depend on several factors:
Younger brothers and sisters who are children or teenagers will likely react differently than older siblings. A brother or sister who is close in age to you will more easily relate to the stresses, fears, and concerns that you experience as a young adult with cancer.
Talking with your siblings. Talking with your siblings about your cancer diagnosis can help you support each other. In fact, sharing the cancer experience with your brothers and sisters often strengthens the relationships. But you or your siblings may not know what to say, or they may even fear talking with you about cancer, so you may need to guide the conversation.
How your siblings can help. Regardless of their ages, your brothers and sisters often want to help, and they can play an important role in supporting you. Here are some practical ways they can help:
Try to avoid blaming yourself for any problems your brothers and sisters have coping. And if they seem overwhelmed, encourage them to seek counseling. This can help them learn healthy ways to respond to their emotions.
Often, young adults may have little or no experience with a life-threatening illness such as cancer and may not know how to act around you. A cancer diagnosis may also frighten some of your friends because it is a reminder that cancer can happen to anyone, even a young adult.
It may be necessary for you to put your friends at ease and talk about your cancer diagnosis. Start by deciding what you want your friends to know. You may consider sharing more information with close friends and less information with acquaintances. Remember that you are in charge of what you tell people. You do not have to tell anyone until you are ready, and you do not have to say more than you want to.
Here are some things to keep in mind after you tell your friends about your cancer:
Despite your efforts, some friendships will fade. It may be difficult for some people to understand your experiences with cancer. It is important to focus on friends who are able to support and listen to you. Talking with other young adults who share your experiences can be extremely helpful. Consider joining a support group for young adults with cancer.