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managing family relationships


Cancer will have an impact on all the different relationships in your life. Having a support crew of family and friends is going to be very important.


Going through cancer treatment can lead to some very positive experiences in relationships, but sometimes the stress can also cause misunderstandings, disappointments and even rifts.


Remember, you’re not doing this alone. The Redkite support team understand the effects cancer can have on the family and everyone involved.

relationships between parents

While cancer can bring partners closer as they unite to support their child, worry and the demands of caring can put significant stress on a 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 fatigue. Just being aware of these risks can help you take steps to avoid them. These steps might include:  

  • Taking breaks so you don't get exhausted or overwhelmed
  • Being gentle with each other and keeping expectations low
  • Asking for support from outside your relationship 

A professional like your hospital social worker or a member of the Redkite support team can help you and your partner come up with ways to stay connected and support each other, so don’t be afraid to reach out. 

parents and children

When your child is diagnosed with cancer, they naturally tend to become the focus of your world. This often means that sharing your attention with your 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.

Genevieve Stonebridge, a clincial counsellor in Canada, created a video called You Matter  to let siblings know that they do matter. She also wants to tell parents about the needs their other children may have and ways they can support them. 

Some other 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 brother and sisters.
  • 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.
  • Asking another family member or close family friend to spend extra time with them.

relationships with grandparents

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, they could also have health issues of their own, or feel less connected to your day-to-day life if they don’t live close by.


Of course, it’s up to you how you choose to involve grandparents. We know that not all families have good relationships between generations to draw on. But if the relationship is a positive one, grandparents can be a vital source of both emotional and practical support. Often they are waiting for cues from you on how best to help.


It can be useful to give grandparents specific ideas of how they can help with things like cooking and cleaning, looking after siblings, providing transport or communicating with other family and friends.


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

relationships with friends and colleagues

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


You can help your friends support you by:

  • Giving them specific suggestions on how to help
  • Letting them know how you would like them to keep in touch (by phone, text, visiting, etc)
  • Recommending information sources to help them understand cancer and the different experiences and challenges you are going through

Your social worker and the Redkite support team and help you find good sources of information to recommend to friends.

your child’s partner

If your child has a partner when they’re diagnosed, this relationship can be a source of wonderful support for them. At the same time, it can also be a source of conflict or tension as everyone tries to navigate cancer in different ways. 


Being respectful and understanding of the relationship can be challenging if there are different opinions or approaches to coping. As with any other family member, keeping communication open, sharing information and making sure everyone feels involved is important. Ultimately, you all want the best for your child. 


If you think you may need help sorting out differences of opinion, your social worker is a great person to speak to and the Redkite support team are always here to help. 


Last updated September 2015.