Cancer can impact relationships in good and bad ways.

While some relationships are stronger for the experience, it may place stress on others. Many young people find it hard to manage dealing with the impact cancer has had on themselves while also dealing with the impact it has had on people around them. It’s normal to notice changes in the way you relate to family, friends, partners and other people in your life- and the way they relate to you.

The information here is to help you talk about your cancer experience, understand the impact it may have had on important people in your life, and give you suggestions on how to strengthen or manage challenges in your relationships with those around you.

Many young people worry more about how cancer is impacting the people they care about than how much it’s impacting themselves. Encouraging loved ones to seek support often helps to reduce this worry.


Talking about your cancer experience- especially with new people - can be difficult. Deciding what or how much to share is a personal choice. Some people share everything, whilst others decide not to share anything at all.

Whatever your preference is, here are some things you may want to consider, with some helpful tips at the end.


Many young people share their cancer experience with friends, so when treatment ends, keeping them informed is something that continues quite naturally. For others, the decision to inform friends only occurs once treatment has finished. You may also make new friends along the way, which can leave you feeling unsure about whether or how to talk about what you’ve been through.

It is generally best to be honest, sharing only the level of detail you feel comfortable with. Keeping your cancer experience a secret may be more stressful than actually talking about it. Providing some insight into your experience can help friends understand and support you better. With new friends, make sure you feel comfortable and are sharing for the right reasons. You may need to be prepared for a whole range of reactions. New friends won’t have expectations based on how you ‘used to’ be, act or feel and so in some ways, this can be helpful.


You may have been single or in a relationship during treatment, or you may have experienced a relationship break. Either way, there may come a time down the track when you start a new relationship, and many young people worry about what and when to share with a new partner. Some common worries are: if I share that I have had cancer, the relationship may not work; if he/she knows that I may not be able to have children, the relationship may not work; how can I ‘burden’ a new partner with this knowledge and how do I even begin to share something so personal.

Choosing when and how to tell a partner is a very personal choice, and there are no right or wrong approaches. You may want to wait until you feel the relationship is becoming serious before sharing your experience. Whatever you choose, try to talk at a time when you are both relaxed, and be open and honest about any concerns you have, encouraging your partner to do the same.

Good communication is key to lasting relationships, old or new.


As you return to school, university, TAFE or work you may come into contact with people who are aware that you have been unwell or don’t really know what you have been through.

Working out what you want to tell them can be tricky. Remember that it is your decision if and how much you’d like to share. Telling your school, university, TAFE or work can be helpful as they can provide you with support when you return. The amount of information you share may depend on the impact of your treatment and what your needs are.

Some young people find it easier to decide what information people are told but leave it to the significant others in their life to ‘do the telling’, as it means you don’t have to keep repeating your story. For example, before you return to school you might meet with your year coordinator to give them information on what you would like other students to be told. If you’re working, you might ask your manager to pass on information to other staff members.

Check out the topic on ‘School, Study & Work’ for more information on managing these aspects of your life after treatment.


  • Remember that it is normal and common to worry about telling others. Most young people have similar concerns.
  • Think about what will make you feel comfortable and ready. You might be ok with telling people upfront or you might want to wait until you feel more comfortable around them and have gained their trust.
  • Work out how you feel, your reasons for telling and what you expect of someone before discussing your experience with them.
  • Plan how and what to say. It may be useful to write it down and practice either by yourself or with someone who knows about your experience.
  • Be aware that other people may need some time to take in the information before they are ready to talk about it properly.
  • Be prepared for varying reactions. People react differently to big news so try to be ready for this. There may be some awkward reactions to deal with.
  • Let others know what you need. Finishing treatment means that you may be trying to cope with a number of side effects. Your friends, classmates and/or work colleagues will be willing to help if they know what you need.
  • Consider different ways of informing your school, TAFE, uni or workplace. Some people find it harder to tell people face-to-face. If it’s easier you can inform them via letter or email. You can follow up with discussion at a later stage, when you are more comfortable.
  • Allow others in your life to share information. Ask people you trust to pass on updates or have the discussion on your behalf. It is ok not to do it all yourself.
  • Seek professional guidance if required. This can be through your GP or a member of your treating team.


Sharing your experience on social media and other forums can be powerful. It can make it easier to connect with people who have been through something similar. You may also find that sharing and communicating with others online helps you deal with your experience.

Social media and other technology can also be a fantastic way to keep people up to date without having to have the same conversation many times. That said, it is really important to be careful about how and what you share in these spaces.

  • Adjust your privacy and security settings to ensure only the people you want to see the information you are posting are able to do so.
  • Make sure that people close to you are aware of what and how much information you want to be shared to avoid unwanted sharing of your information by others.
  • Before you post a message, photo or any other information online, stop and ask yourself: would I be okay with my friends, family, school, TAFE, uni, current or future employer seeing this? If not, reconsider- anything you post can remain on the internet for years to come (even if you delete it).


Many people experience changes in their relationships during or after treatment. Below are some common experiences and tips for strengthening relationships and managing any challenges.


Whether you were living with your parent(s)/carer(s) or not during treatment, cancer can really impact your relationships with them.

You may have had to rely on them more than usual and it might have felt like you lost independence in a whole range of ways. Even after treatment, your relationship with your parent(s)/carer(s) may not return to what it was like before. It often requires a discussion and re-negotiating roles and responsibilities to help you gain back your independence and build confidence. It can take time to find a new balance that works.


  • Talk to your parent(s) or carer(s) about what’s important to you now that you have completed treatment. Be honest with them and hear what they say is important to them too.
  • Negotiate the ways your parent(s)/carer(s) may still be involved in your follow up care, such as coming along to a medical review if you feel comfortable.
  • Think about small ways you can regain your independence over time, rather than trying to adopt an ‘only all’ approach. This may work positively for both you and your parent(s)/carer(s) as they still get to remain somewhat involved.
  • Remember communication is key, so take some time to talk to your parent(s)/carer(s) about how you’re feeling and what you need.


Siblings are affected when a brother or sister has cancer and have their own unique cancer experience. Some have had to take on more roles and responsibilities, especially at home. They are often faced with complex and conflicting emotions. Many say they have felt guilty, scared, angry, sad and even jealous. Like you, it’s not something they signed up for.

You have probably found by now that cancer can bring some siblings closer, and push others further apart. Some young people believe that when treatment ends, relationships with siblings will return to how they were before, but this may not be the case. You may need to find a different or new way to communicate or relate to your siblings and this can be challenging.


  • Take some time to talk to siblings about your cancer experience and at the same time, to hear about theirs.
  • Acknowledge that there may have been changes to roles and responsibilities at home and try and work out together how to approach things now.
  • Make the effort to spend some time together doing something enjoyable.
  • Ask for help from your parent(s) or carer(s) if you think this will be helpful.


Cancer can bring out the best and the worst and put a strain on even the longest or strongest relationships.

Sometimes there is a new dynamic created when treatment finishes. If treatment has been the focus for both of you, suddenly you have time for other things, all of which should be good but can sometimes feel weird or hard somehow. You may also have ongoing treatment effects that can impact your relationship, and you may both be struggling with a whole range of similar or completely different emotions.

Talking honestly about feelings and concerns- and respecting any differences between you - is so important to preserving and building closeness in your relationship. Do your best to keep the lines of communication open and acknowledge the shared and individual experiences of what you’ve both been through.

Check out the topic on ‘Intimacy & Sex’ for more information on intimate relationships after treatment.


Your relationships with friends may change after treatment and this can come as a surprise.

Some friends may not be prepared for or understand the changes you may have undergone. They may think that now that you’ve finished treatment and ‘look fine’, you must be ‘feeling fine,’ and don’t understand why that isn’t always the case.

Sometimes friends can disappear or you begin to feel like you don’t have as much in common any more. It is normal for friendships to change over time, growing closer to some and further apart from others in ways that may or may not be related to your cancer experience. Try to spend your time and energy on the relationships that matter most to you.


Like many adults, children may find it hard to understand why things can’t simply go back to the way they were before cancer.

Since finishing treatment, you may be worried about how your child will adjust to any changes. There’s a good chance they have already faced some big and scary issues and may have ongoing concerns or worries.

Like adults, all children cope differently, so the level of support they need will also vary. Younger children may not display any obvious worry but you may notice changes in behaviour. Older children may have expectations on you to quickly bounce back or have questions about the cancer returning. It is not always easy to respond to the needs of children, and getting some advice may be helpful.


  • Let the important people in your life know you understand your experience may have been hard for them too. Start the conversation as others may not know where to begin or what to say.
  • Be open with others about where you’re at and what you need from them. People may be expecting you to get ‘back to normal’ when you feel very far from it. You may also find you can’t get back to doing the things you used to as quickly as you thought you would, or in the same way. Communicating this to others can help them better understand and support you.
  • It can help to write down your thoughts and feelings prior to a discussion to clarify what you want to say and how you want to say it.
  • Be patient and kind to yourself and others. You may find yourself becoming frustrated with those close to you. Try to remember that the people around you have good intentions but may not know what to do or how to say what they need to.
  • Keep the relationships that matter. Expect that some relationships will change for better or worse and that you may not feel the same about them anymore. Try not to expend a lot of emotional energy trying to patch up relationships that may not have been strong to begin with. Invest your time and energy in those closest to you.
  • Talk to your treating team or GP if you have ongoing concerns about communicating with family, your partner or friends, or are struggling with your children. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.


CanTeen has a range of resources that relate to relationships during and after cancer treatment for young people, their families and friends.



Advice From Clinicians
Advice From Clinicians: Relationships With Friends
Advice From Clinicians: Relationships With Parents & Carers
Advice From Clinicians: Relationships with Siblings
Advice From Clinicians: Relationships with Children
Advice From Clinicians: Relationships with Others



Below are some thoughts, experiences and advice other young people have shared with us about relationships with family and friends after treatment for cancer.

How have your relationships with friends and family changed?

“Relationships with friends have significantly improved, as I have been more able to attend dinners, catch-ups, play golf with my mates and watch them play cricket at our cricket club. My family relationships (mum and dad) have stayed constant throughout treatment and post, as I look to move out and feel the drift from them as I mature in life.”

“I held my parents much at arm’s length before and this has given them a chance to worm their way back into my life a little bit and I sort of resent that. I mean, I want there to be firm boundaries and I want to advocate for myself within my relationships but I don’t feel that my parents allow me to do that in our relationship. I feel like they want to help, but that they do so in ways that aren’t helpful for me and get defensive when I try to push back. My friends respected the boundaries that I set, and that was good. But my parents’ feelings of family trumps all made me feel like they did not respect me enough to listen to me when I told them what I needed after treatment.”

“Relationships within my immediate family (mum, dad, brother, cousin and uncle & aunty) have grown, we were close during treatment and then that became stronger afterwards too, I guess there is a sense of admiration for what I went through and I also admire them for their strength to standby and remain the same to me honestly. I guess it just reinforced that they cared for me a lot. I still live at home with my parents so there has been times where we have lost patience and snapped a bit but I believe that’s just because we have been in our back pocket for so long in a small space without alone time. Relationships with friends has also improved, I know the core group who were with me during treatment and they haven’t stopped their support. The whole experience has almost brought us closer than what we were before.”

“I’ve learned to be more open, honest and transparent [with] those around me. I speak up, I have the tough conversations, I re-evaluate my behaviour when someone pulls me up on my indiscretions and I try again. I don’t assume everyone knows what I’m feeling or I them. 

Treatment taught me the importance of patience, space and empathy. There is no perfection or idyllic relationship but I have found the ones that change you […] are the kind ones. The ones who answer every call and tell you not to apologise. Who love you at your most demanding and emotionally laborious times and greet your moods with open arms – they are the ones to keep and keep working to be better at.”

“My family has gotten a lot closer than it was before diagnosis. For three months I had chemo (and was in hospital) for 5 days every three weeks. I lived 1-2hrs away from the hospital and my mum always stayed the 5 days I was having treatment. This put a lot of stress on my dad and siblings because the family dynamic changed. Dad had to take my siblings to school every morning, cook dinner, take them to different after school activities, training, sports on weekends, and help them with homework all while going to work himself. Sometimes they all came up to the hospital on a weeknight. We’d watch tv and order takeaway to the hospital. I liked those nights the best. It was nice to experience something ‘normal’. During the weeks I didn’t have treatment my family just tried to treat me how they usually did.

I found that with my friends, they didn’t really know how to act around me. We hadn’t heard of anyone our age with cancer, it was only old people and those little kids you see on fundraising advertisements.

I drifted away from a few friends. I guess they thought that because I was having chemo, I wasn’t allowed to go out and have fun, so they stopped inviting me. It was kinda hard watching all of my friends go back to uni while I was stuck in hospital, but I also kinda liked it because I knew I wasn’t missing many social activities because they were all too busy with homework.” 

“My relationships with my family have definitely changed. I wouldn’t say strengthened as we were already extremely close, but we all talk more often and it’s really made me appreciate them being around more for sure. I have also seen sides of them I hadn’t previously seen. For example I never knew my sister was as perceptive as she is. During treatment she always knew what to ask the doctors and also always knew how to make all my visitors feel a bit more at ease somehow. Since treatment has ended I look at all of my family members slightly differently because of how I experienced them during and I am thankful for this.

My friendships have definitely been strengthened because of treatment! My chemo was quite intensive and I had 4 hour days for a week at a time, my friends would take in turns at joining me for this. Spending 4 hours sitting still, feeling the sickest I’ve ever felt, changed the dynamic of these relationships. Not being able to fake feeling okay meant silences became comfortable and there was a level of patience from both of us that wasn’t there before! My friends looked after me more than I knew was possible and that has changed our relationships for the better forever. I know I couldn’t have come out of this as well as I did without my friends and family.”

What surprised you?

“Nothing really, I expected my relationships would improve as I was more able to see my friends. My partner has been my rock throughout the whole thing so that has not changed pre, during or post-treatment.”

“Losing a friendship which was, admittedly, on its way out but their not really caring or offering any support really cemented that I didn’t want to keep that relationship.”

“I had plenty of support during the initial few months after my diagnosis, during chemo and post surgery. However, post active treatment and moving in to the monitoring stage is when I have needed the most support. I think this is difficult for most people to understand because life looks like it is returning to ‘normal’ – my hair is growing back (yay), I don’t look ‘sick,’ I’m back at work and exercising. I have definitely felt the support drawing away and I am surprised at just how much I was relying on it. I am now becoming more open with my supports and sharing with them what is happening and when I need help, but this is difficult for me.”

“I wouldn’t say my mates are ‘typical teenage blokes’; they’re upfront and honest and genuine guys. I recently found out [that] when I was in hospital and they found out, they were a mess- two of them lived together and didn’t really know how to deal with it. They openly confessed to not dealing at all and were terrified of what was to come. It has now opened up a discussion about our mental states and how we can support each other, a positive out of all this has been an opportunity to open up to one another.”

What advice do you have for others?

“Set firm boundaries with friends and family – and don’t feel ashamed that you have to do that to protect yourself.”

“Be upfront with friends, they won’t ever judge you for having a scar or not having hair or still being crook or not as fit as before. If they’re true friends and supportive family those factors shouldn’t be an issue. It’s easier said than done but in the long run it’s worth knowing who’s there for you and vice versa.”

“Everyone reacts differently to a cancer diagnosis. [People you don’t hear from], they’re most likely not ignoring you, cancer has probably affected their family in some way. A few of my friends didn’t speak to me until I got the news I was all clear, whereas others were extremely clingy and wanted to know every detail of my appointments. If you can, go out or invite some friends round to show that you’re [still] a teenager/young adult and you can still do ‘normal’ things.”

“Some relationships will become so much more than you hoped, some will fall by the wayside. You’ll experience grief and love and pathos and pain simultaneously, and then you’ll come to realise that everyone is doing the best they can. The anger you have towards those you thought would be there will fade to indifference. The ones you knew you were outgrowing will slowly soften and the ones you didn’t suspect could become so much more than they already were, become just that.”

“Coming to the end of treatment it took me a while to realise that I didn’t need looking after anymore. So some advice might be not to be offended or surprised when people stop offering to do everything for you, because they can see how okay you are maybe before you can.

Also to be patient with everyone, yourself and your relationships. I assumed because life was so mundane during treatment that afterwards my life and my interactions with everyone would immediately become so exciting all of a sudden, which it didn’t because everyone else has continued life almost normally while yours was so different. But I am remembering just to be thankful for normal life and doing normal, even boring things.”