You do not need to have cancer to be impacted by the disease. What to expect when someone you know is diagnosed with cancer?
When someone is diagnosed with cancer, relatives and friends are often the forgotten ones. If that is you, then you will know, that you are also affected by the disease and may require help to cope.
But you may also think, that you are not as deserving and important as the person with cancer. Well, the impact of cancer on all is very real and to take care of yourself makes sense.
1. You might put the other first and neglect yourself
Often family and friends neglect their own well-being, when, understandably so, a greater focus is on the care for the person with cancer. You may even feel guilty doing something you enjoy, or carrying on with some personal routines like going to work, hobbies and socialising.
If someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer, this will affect you.
You, too, may undergo a life-changing experience and find yourself on your own unique cancer journey.
You may have been treated for cancer in the past, have already lost loved ones or are afraid of getting cancer yourself.
2. The impact on all areas of your life
The impact on family and friends can vary and be long-lasting (in no particular order):
- Economic: You can experience financial difficulties, with extra medical, care and associated expenses. If the person diagnosed with cancer has to stop working or dies, this may lead to a reduction in household income and threaten mortgage or rent payments, school fees and more.
- Work: Employers may be more or less accommodating when you require time off or more flexible working hours.
- Social: Friends and relatives may be unhelpful, and withdraw from you and a situation in which (for whatever reason) they cannot or do not want to be more actively involved.
- Relational: You may find it difficult to make time for others or to be emotionally available. This can lead to friction and difficulties where others depend on you (e.g. children) or are less understanding of what you might be going through.
- Spiritual: You may experience a crisis of belief and question why your relative or friend was not ‘spared’. Indeed, you may ask why you were not spared and may find it difficult to get a sufficient level of spiritual energy from within.
- Physical: You may develop new or draw on existing coping mechanisms, which in the long-run may be unhelpful and lead to new problems: eating too much or too little, smoking, drinking, drugs, exercising too little or too much and such like.
- Emotional: The psychological and mental impact of cancer on family and friends is not to be underestimated.
3. Normal feelings you might experience
Common feelings are:
Helplessness – There is nothing I can do to make it better, or control the situation.
Survivor’s guilt – Why not me?
Feeling left out and isolated – When the main focus of others and medical staff seems to be on the person with cancer.
Disbelief – When will I wake up from this nightmare?
Bereavement and loss – Grieving for the other, for life and the relationship the way you knew it.
Anger – Why is this happening to us? Why now? Why doesn’t anyone do something? You may also find yourself at the receiving end of anger and irritability by the person with cancer.
Resentment – You were not meant to live your life like this. You were not meant to lose a loved one. You may also feel resentment towards the person with cancer – for getting it and for not fighting harder against it and for disease interfering with the life you hoped you would have.
Uncertainty and fear – Over cancer treatment, the future, your ability to cope.
Blame – Was it their lifestyle, you, others who contributed to it?
Being passive – You just want it all to go away.
Feeling depressed and lacking motivation – You feel overwhelmed with no clear way out.
4. What can you do
Research what help is available in your area, by cancer charities, by your health trust (if you are in the UK). Asking for help and assistance you are entitled to is not a sign of weakness. It is the smart thing to do. Make sure you exercise self-care, cut down on additional stress and commitment. Look after your emotional and physical health.
Cancer counselling and therapeutic support for relatives and friends can assist in dealing with such difficult experiences and emotions. Over time this can help lighten the load, rebuild emotional energies and help you explore choices available at this difficult time.
Different people opt for different support at different times: at diagnosis, during treatment, to help prepare towards the death of a loved one, or much later, when the person with cancer may have died, may be in remission or may have been re-diagnosed.
Cancer can changes lives forever – even if you are not the one with cancer.
You might like my video about what to say to someone with cancer, when deep down, you feel you did not sign up for this.
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Need some advice? Submit your question to my #DearKarin advice column here. Karin Sieger BA (Hons), MA (PsychCouns), Reg. MBACP (Accred) is a therapist and writer. All rights reserved © Karin Sieger. Neither articles nor videos substitute medical advice or therapy.