Facing up to cancer

If your cousin, niece, nephew, grandson or granddaughter has been diagnosed with cancer, it can be hard to know how to respond. You’ll probably be battling with a lot of different emotions – confusion, fear, anger, sadness. Finding out a little more about cancer can help. But often the most helpful thing – for you and your relative – is simply to be there when you’re needed. 

(By the way, if it’s your son or daughter who has cancer, read our Cancer support for parents. Or if it’s your brother or sister, Cancer support for brothers and sisters is for you).

Cancer: the basics

There’s a lot of info on this site about different types of cancers and different treatments. But for starters, here are the basics: 

  • Cancer is a disease which makes cells in the body act abnormally
  • The cause of most cancers is unknown – and nothing your relative has done has caused cancer
  • Many cancers can be cured, and cancer treatments are getting better all the time
  • Some of the treatments do have side effects – things like losing your hair, feeling tired all the time, being sick and either losing or putting on weight
  • Treatment can last between a few months and a few years
  • You can’t catch cancer from other people.

Find out more about types of cancer and cancer treatments.

How can you help?

You probably want to help your relative but might not know how. That’s totally normal. You can always ask them if there’s anything they need (although it can be tough to ask for help, so try to be patient if they sometimes get annoyed). 

And you can try and do a few of these simple things too:

  • Spend time with them. A friendly face can be a very powerful thing, so arrange to drop in and say hi or to go out for a coffee. 
  • Talk about normal things. Hearing what’s going on in your world can give your relative a break from thinking about cancer. 
  • Ask questions. It’s the best way to find out what’s going on and to understand what your relative is happy talking about. Just remember that sometimes they might not feel like talking. 
  • Wash your hands. Your relative might be more likely to catch infections during cancer treatment – and washing your hands reduces the risk of infection spreading. 
  • Talk about your feelings. It’s really tough to see someone you love going through cancer treatment, so try not to bottle up your feelings. Talking about your feelings to friends, family, colleagues or a counsellor might help you to cope.

How not to stifle

It’s easy to become overprotective when someone you care about has cancer. But – cancer or no cancer – your relative is still a young, independent person trying to figure out who they are. So they may not want you to try and to do everything for them. 

In fact, whether you’re a grandparent or a cousin or an aunt or uncle, you can sometimes really help by having a word with your relative’s mum, dad, brother or sister if they’re being a bit overprotective.

And, because cancer can be particularly stressful for immediate family, you might also want to help out by spending time with your relative while the rest of the family do their own thing for a while.

Beware of Google!

Finding out more about cancer can be a really good idea. It means you know more about what to expect and about what your relative is going through. 

But before you open your phone and hit Google, remember to click carefully. There’s a lot of good information out there, but there are also plenty of scare stories – and it’s easy to get sucked into the scare stories and freak yourself out. 

Doctors will be happy to recommend sites you can trust. We’ve included useful links throughout this site too. And remember that everyone’s cancer is different – so the best way to find out what’s really going on is to speak to your relative, or to their doctors.