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Changes for the Family

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Cancer affects family and friends, not just the person with the disease. The people in your life may also feel worried, angry, or afraid. Family members may be very supportive, or they may start acting differently towards you. Some may feel guilty that they're not sick, or they may feel helpless, not knowing how to help you.

Adjusting to the new situation

When you find out you have cancer, daily routines may change for everyone. Schedules may be focused around treatment. Someone in your family may need to take time off from work to drive you to treatments. Or, perhaps you need help paying bills or cooking meals. You may need help with chores and errands. Other issues that often come up are:

Changing Roles

When someone has cancer, everyone in the family has to take on new roles and responsibilities. A child may have to do more chores, or a spouse may have to help shop or do carpool. It can be hard for some to adjust to these changes.


Most people find it stressful to keep up with money matters. Cancer can reduce the amount of money your family has to spend or save. If you're not able to work, someone else in your family may need to get a job. You and your family may need to learn more about health insurance and find out what will be covered and what you need to pay for. These and other money issues can be hard to deal with. For tips on handling bills and insurance, see Managing Costs and Medical Information.

Living Arrangements

People with cancer sometimes need to change where they live or whom they live with. You may need to move in with someone else to get the care you need. Or, you may need to travel far from home for treatment. This can be stressful because you may feel that you're losing your independence, even if it's just for a little while.

Daily Activities

You may need help with duties such as walking the dog, helping with meals, or coaching your children's teams. Asking others to do these things for you can be hard. But most people want to help and like to do so when you ask.

While some families find it easy to talk about these changes, it's also common for others to find the challenges hard to discuss. If your family is having trouble talking about these issues, ask for help from your health care team or request a family meeting. Your doctor or nurse can refer you to someone who can help families talk about cancer.

Help from Other Family and Friends

Once people learn of your cancer, some will ask you how they can help. Others will wonder what they can do for you, but aren't sure how to ask. You can help your friends cope with the news by letting them assist you in some way. For example, ask them to drive your carpool or go to the store. Make a list of things you think you might need help with, so they can pick something they're able to do for you.

Do What You Can

You probably can, and want to keep doing things on your own. It's important to let people know that you can still do some things for yourself. As much as you're able, keep up with your normal routine by making decisions, managing your home, running errands, and taking part in things you enjoy.

Ask for Help

It's okay to ask for help if you need to. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Most likely your loved ones want to help you. You can also find volunteers to help you through churches or community groups. Professional helpers can be hired to assist you with physical care and other needs. You could also ask your doctor about respite care, which is when someone comes to your home and takes care of you while your family member goes out for a while.

Show Gratitude for Your Caregivers

Cancer and its treatment are hard on everyone, especially the people who take care of you. Sometimes loved ones become run down and get sick from the stress. Because of this, they need to have balance in their life—time to take care of personal tasks and errands, rest, be with friends, or enjoy hobbies. Your caregivers will also need time to sort through their feelings about cancer. Let them know that you want them to have a break, and that it's okay for other people to take care of you for a while.

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