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Cancer and Relationships with Friends, Family and Partners


It’s likely that every one of your relationships has been affected in some way by your cancer experience – whether that’s as a patient, or family member. After everything you’ve been through, your role in your family, group of friends or relationships is going to be different. You have changed – and so of course, your relationships with others have changed. You might feel more mature and stronger than before, and think different things are important now.

Family roles and relationships

Many families expect everything to return to normal (however they define that) when treatment ends, either your own or that of a loved one. But be prepared – you, and your family, may have changed permanently.

- Try to be patient with each other as a family, as you all adjust. It may be hard for them to give you back your independence, or to know how to talk about your cancer.

- Spend some time experimenting with new routines and finding out what works for the whole family. Continue to find ways to and support each other and work together on making a ‘new normal’.

You may find that your friendships begin to change when cancer comes along. You may feel disconnected from your old friends and that you can’t relate to them as much anymore. Other friendships may strengthen, highlighting who you are closest to or part of your ‘inner circle’. You might feel like you have been forced to grow up faster than them and now feel more mature. Or maybe you have missed out on a lot of opportunities to socialise with people your age, and you feel like your friends have moved on and left you behind.

- As you try to return to ‘ordinary’ life, you may find that you need to rethink and even end some friendships. This may have happened anyway – cancer or no cancer.

- You might find that a lot of people assume that when you or a loved one go into remission, everything ‘goes back to normal’. This could bring up feelings of frustration, feeling unseen or unheard, or even misunderstood of what you have just experienced. Try and be compassionate to yourself and others (which may feel difficult). Most people that have not experienced what you have just gone through have limited awareness of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual impact cancer can have.

- As you begin to realise what is important and interesting to you, give yourself opportunities to meet people who have similar interests and values. Maybe you could join a club or a team, or chat to people here on Connect, or sign up for one of our events!

Relationship with your Partner

Dating after cancer can be different. If you have a partner/boyfriend/girlfriend who has been with you during your cancer experience, your relationship has probably changed in some ways (for better or worse). They may have taken on a caring role for you whilst you’ve been through treatment; or supporting you and your family while a loved one has treatment.

Taking on a caring or support role can change the relationship – you may have dealt with some struggles, and the way you communicate might have changed. You might find that your attitude to things and your outlook on life has shifted too, and this can affect your relationship.

But some couples find that going through something like this together strengthens their relationship and reinforces their closeness and commitment to each other.

If you have been through treatment yourself, you might like to read our other article; we also have some resources here that you might want to share with a partner.

Partners also may need their own support, adjusting to the many changes that are happening – encourage them to find a space just for them, where they can feel heard (with a trusted friend, family member, a sporting team, a staff member from the hospital team, or a counsellor). 

Finding people who understand your experience can be really helpful, and help you come to your other relationships with fresh perspective. Here’s some of your leaders sharing about meeting others with a cancer experience on Connect:

By Brie T, Online Counsellor, Canteen Australia