The diagnosis and treatment of your breast cancer is almost certain to have an impact on those close to you. How well they adjust can influence how you cope during this time. This section covers issues ranging from talking to your children to dealing with your current or a future partner.
Nicole Gardiner, a breast care nurse on our Support Line, talks about the different ways relationships can be affected by a breast cancer diagnosis.
If you have a partner, you may find the roles within your relationship change. Some partners become overly protective while others may take on an almost parental role. They may feel they need to find out everything they can about your breast cancer, or remain positive at all times, which does not allow you to discuss any negative thoughts or difficult issues. Others may cope by continuing with life as if nothing has happened.
For some partners, it may not be the diagnosis they find most difficult but the new role they take on. For example, it may become your partner’s job to manage the home or get children ready for school whereas before it may have been a shared responsibility. This may create difficulties in your relationship or on the other hand, it can also bring you closer together. However your partner responds, it’s important you are both honest and talk openly about your concerns.
If you weren’t in a relationship when you were diagnosed, or your relationship ended after your diagnosis, meeting someone new may mean telling them about your breast cancer. Deciding when and how to do this can be difficult. You may feel there isn’t a right time to talk about this or be unable to find the words. As you get to know someone and feel more comfortable with them you may find it easier to talk about all aspects of your life, including your breast cancer.
When you feel the time is right to tell your new partner they may respond in a number of ways. They may initially be shocked and take some time to adjust to this news. They may have their own anxieties and fears around cancer and what it means to them. Or your new partner may be very accepting of your history and recognise that your experience of breast cancer is now part of who you are.
You may find that the relationship between you and your children also changes. Children can respond in many different ways depending on their age and character. For example, a younger child may become clingy and not want to leave the house or go to school. Alternatively, teenagers may be worried about you or scared what your diagnosis may mean for them. They may distance themselves from the family and home because of this. Daughters may worry that they are at risk of developing breast cancer too.
You might find that you are unable to do the things you did before your diagnosis and that you and your children are missing out. Make sure your children have realistic expectations about your energy levels, how involved you can be and where you may still need their help and understanding. Try to keep in mind that there will be a time when you are able to become more involved again.
Continue talking with your children about your experience of breast cancer even after the treatment has finished. Children tend to be more comfortable when they know what’s happening and what to expect. You may want to talk to them about any fears they might have for you, your partner or their own future. The age of your children will be important in how you talk to them and their expectations of you after treatment has finished. If children are finding it hard to talk to you, encourage them to talk to someone else close to support them. This may be a relative or a close friend.
You can find more about talking to children in our Talking with your children about breast cancer booklet.
If your children are at school it can be helpful to communicate with your child’s school about your diagnosis and treatment. See our booklet Breast cancer and your child’s school for more information on how to do this.
We have information that might help you to start a conversation with children about breast cancer. Our picture book, Mummy's Lump is aimed at children under the age of 7. We also have a comic book aimed at older children called Medikidz Explain Breast Cancer.
Family and friends
Family and friends’ responses to your diagnosis and your situation can vary considerably and they can have both a positive and negative effect on you. They're often a good source of both practical and emotional support, from cooking you a meal to being people you can talk to honestly.
However, you may find that your relationships with family and friends change. For example, a parent might suddenly want to do everything for you. Although they may be doing what they feel is best, this can be frustrating, particularly if you established your independence years before. Try to talk to them about how you feel and perhaps suggest things they can do that you would find supportive. If this isn't possible, perhaps someone close to you may be able to talk to them about how you're feeling.
Some people may react in a way that makes you feel unsupported. Your friends may have had little experience of a life-threatening illness and what it means, and may not be able to respond to your needs. For example, they may not be able to understand your uncertainty about the future or that you sometimes feel too ill to go out.
Your focus will have changed and sometimes a friend you felt you could most rely on is not there. You may find that some people distance themselves from you. They may be frightened and have difficulty understanding what is happening to you or feel unsure about what to say or do.
The end of treatment can be a particularly difficult time. Your family and friends may expect things to go back to how they were before your diagnosis, but you may feel differently. You don’t have to cope with these feelings alone. Our Moving Forward pack and courses are aimed at helping people at the end of their hospital-based treatment.