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Relationships and family

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 highly sensitive issues around sexuality and intimacy.


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. It is important to recognise that this may create difficulties in your relationship. On the other hand, it can also bring you closer together. However your partner responds, it is important that you both try to talk about your concerns.

Carolyn Hall, a Breast Cancer Voice diagnosed in 2005 at the age of 41, talks about how her relationships have changed since her diagnosis.


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 distance themselves from the family and home. Relationships can be especially difficult between mothers with breast cancer and their teenaged daughters. They may be worried about you or scared they may be 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. It is important to keep in mind that there will be a time when you are able to become more involved again.

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 are 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 is not possible, then perhaps someone close to you may be able to talk to them about how you are 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.

Nicole Gardiner, a breast care nurse on our Helpline, talks about the different ways relationships can be affected by a breast cancer diagnosis.

Next planned review 2013



Last edited:

09 January 2014