Survivor's Guide
Living Well after Cancer

Communicating with Family and Friends

After treatment is over, your family and friends may also need time to adjust. Research shows that carers often experience high levels of distress, even when treatment has finished.

Your cancer diagnosis may make people around you question their own priorities and goals. Like you, they may be concerned about the cancer coming back. Let your family and friends know that you understand it's hard for them as well. Tell them how much you appreciate all they've already done to help you and let them know if you still need their support.
People close to you can have a range of reactions when your cancer treatment ends. They may feel:
  • relieved that you're okay
  • happy to focus on others and themselves
  • exhausted
  • confused, especially if your relationship has changed
  • pleased they can catch up with family and friends without cancer dominating the conversation
  • worried about what the future holds.
When treatment finishes, your family and friends may expect you to act the same as before the cancer. If you have changed, people close to you may be disappointed, worried or frustrated.

Friends and family may say things like "but you look fine", "your treatment has finished now" and "the cancer has gone, hasn't it?". They may have difficulty accepting that some symptoms, such as tiredness, persist for long periods of time, and you may need allowances to be made. You may feel you're expected to be grateful you're still alive, no matter the side effects.

It's natural for family and friends to want the distress and disruption of cancer to be behind you. They care for you and want you to be well. However, if you find their reactions difficult to handle, you might need to talk to them about how you're feeling. You may need to tell them that your recovery is ongoing, and you need time to think about what you've been through. You might not be able to just ‘get on with it' as quickly as they might want you to.
If you've had cancer, it doesn't automatically mean that your children will get it too.

If you're concerned the cancer is inherited, talk to your doctor about any risk factors and whether your family needs regular screening. Your doctor may refer you to a family cancer clinic or to a genetic counselling service.
If you have children or grandchildren, they may have seen less of you during treatment. It's common for young people to worry that the person with cancer will die.

Like many adults, children may find it difficult to understand why life can't go back to the way it was before the cancer. Children's reactions and needs will vary depending on their age. Try to be as open and honest as possible. This will make them feel safe.

  • Acknowledge the temporary or permanent changes that your family has made to deal with the cancer. This is particularly important for teenagers.
  • Be open about how you feel emotionally and physically, so the children understand if you're not bouncing back.
  • Talk about your fears, such as if you're feeling anxious before a follow-up visit. This may encourage children to talk about their fears when you go for a check-up.
  • Spend time together doing something they enjoy.
  • Explain any changes made to your family's lifestyle, and let them know if they are permanent.
Information reviewed by:
Dr Kate Webber, Cancer Survivorship Research Fellow and Medical Oncologist, NSW Cancer Survivors Centre; Kathy Chapman, Director, Health Strategies, Cancer Council NSW; Janine Deevy, Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Care Coordinator, Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, QLD; Dr Louisa Gianacas, Clinical Psychologist, Psycho-oncology Service, Calvary Mater Newcastle, NSW; Tina Gibson, Education and Support Officer, Cancer Council SA; A/Prof Michael Jefford, Senior Clinical Consultant at Cancer Council VIC, Consultant Medical Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and Clinical Director, Australian Cancer Survivorship Centre, VIC; Annie Miller, Project Coordinator, Community Education Programs, Cancer Council NSW; Micah Peters, Project Officer, Education and Information, Cancer Council SA; Janine Porter-Steele, Clinical Nurse Manager, Kim Walters Choices, The Wesley Hospital, QLD; Ann Tocker, Cancer Voices; and A/Prof Jane Turner, Department of Psychiatry, University of Queensland.