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Managing changing relationships with family and friends

Childhood cancer impacts each member of a family and all the different relationships in their life. This can lead to some very positive experiences in relationships, however, sometimes the stress can also cause misunderstandings, disappointments and even rifts.

Life can turn upside down after a child’s cancer diagnosis, and this can have a huge effect on immediate and extended family. For parents and carers, leaning on their support system of close family and friends can help ease the weight on their shoulders throughout the cancer experience. Depending on a family’s existing relationships and mix of personalities, this can lead to some very positive experiences, however, sometimes the stress can also cause misunderstandings, disappointments and even rifts.

Below we’ve outlined some of the ways relationships can be affected by childhood cancer, and how to navigate these changes during this challenging time.

Here’s the thing about childhood cancer. It’s not just about the child who’s affected. It’s a family illness and it affects us all in very different ways.

Melanie

Mum of a child with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia

While cancer can bring partners closer as they unite to support their child, worry and the demands of caring can put significant stress on their relationship. This can be made harder when people have different coping styles and ways of showing emotion, and by the physical separation that often happens as one partner still needs to work or stay home to care for other children.

All these factors mean there’s a higher risk of misunderstandings and frustration. Just being aware of these risks can help you take steps to help them. These steps might include:  

  • Prioritising communication as much as possible and finding a healthy way to vent either to a loved one or a professional when needed.
  • Asking extended family or friends for help with household tasks or help taking care of children so you can take breaks, especially if you’re feeling exhausted or overwhelmed.
  • Consistently connecting with your partner, over the phone or in person.
  • Being gentle with your partner and keeping expectations low.
  • Accepting help from extended family and friends so that you can spend time together as a couple.
  • Reaching out to professionals for help if you’re struggling in your relationship.

The emotional impact of cancer can put a lot of strain on a relationship. If you need support, Redkite’s support team is here to listen and help you with the challenges you’re facing.  

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, they naturally tend to become the focus of their parents’ world. This often means that sharing their attention with their other children can be hard. Many parents say they feel guilty about not having enough time or energy, while others try to protect siblings by keeping them away from the hospital. But no matter how old they are, children are very perceptive and often imagine the worst if they’re not told what’s happening.

Some things that can help siblings include:  

  • Giving them information about the cancer and its treatment, what their sibling is going through, and how it might make them look, feel or act. Check out Redkite’s Book Club, where we have books specifically for siblings.
  • Involving siblings where possible, but also encouraging them to continue their everyday activities.
  • Talking to them about how they’re feeling and let them know about special sibling support services such as Camp Quality and Canteen, as well as Redkite’s support team.
  • Letting their teachers know they may need extra support. Sometimes siblings have difficulties explaining what’s happening to other children.
  • Offering to spend extra time with them.

We often hear that grandparents feel a “double impact” as they struggle to deal with the effect of cancer not just on their grandchild, but also on their own adult child. Some of the challenges they can face include:

  • Wanting to help, but not wanting to get in the way
  • Wanting information, but being afraid to burden the family by asking
  • Needing support, but not knowing how to ask 

Added to these challenges, if you are a grandparent and have health issues of your own or feel less connected to their day-to-day life if you don’t live close by. If the relationship is a positive one, you can be a vital source of both emotional and practical support for your family. Often you will find you are waiting for cues from your children on how best to help.

It can be useful for you if you’re given specific ideas of how to help with things like cooking and cleaning, looking after your other grandchildren, helping to provide transport or communicating with other family and friends.

If you’re struggling to talk to talk to your children, or are concerned about how they are coping Redkite can help. Our support team has many years’ experience supporting families through this journey. We run regular online support groups for grandparents and can provide a free information booklet specifically for grandparents, along with our phone, email and face-to-face support. 

People often say cancer has strong positive and negative effects on friendships. Sometimes people close to the family will fade away, while others turn out to be wonderful sources of support. The friends that do become part of the families support network can play small or big roles and are often willing to let the family guide you on what help you can give.

You can help the family by:

  • Asking for specific suggestions on how you can help
  • Keep in touch consistently (by phone, text, visiting, etc)
  • Ask for information sources to help you understand cancer and the different experiences and challenges the family are going through

The Redkite support team can help you find good sources of information.

Facing childhood cancer is hard for everyone connected to a diagnosed child. We are here to give you the information and support you need to help you through this challenging time.

For more information or support, contact our team of childhood cancer specialists.

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