Tips for Navigating Cancer as a Family

When a family member is diagnosed with cancer, it’s understandable that the family’s primary focus will change as concern may be very high. It’s not just the individual with cancer that may be struggling with complex feelings; it affects the entire family, too. 

A newly diagnosed cancer patient often thinks of their family first, worrying about how they will handle the news, possibly needing support and how each person will deal with changes in the household routine. Meanwhile, the rest of the family may struggle with feelings of helplessness, not knowing how they can best support.

It’s a complicated journey that a family embarks on together. So here are some of our best tips to help you navigate cancer as a family. 


A loved one’s cancer diagnosis is stressful enough, but being left in the dark about treatment progress, changes and updates can make people in your family feel more anxious. So it’s essential to stay connected and keep everyone informed. To avoid repeatedly answering the same questions, you may even assign one family member to be in charge of updating other relatives and friends.

Taking the lead when talking about your cancer diagnosis can also be helpful. For example, some family members may be afraid to bring up the topic out of fear of upsetting you. Reassure them that you’re prepared to answer their questions and concerns by bringing it up first.

Seek emotional support.

A cancer diagnosis can either strengthen or put stress on family relationships. Counseling can help cancer patients and their families navigate the changes in relationship roles, responsibilities and future plans. 

Each member will have different emotional needs. Children, especially, may benefit from emotional support as they come to understand cancer and their parent’s medical needs. This is particularly important to explain to young children if your cancer diagnosis has changed the family’s financial situation, a full-time caretaker now lives in the home or if there are other significant changes. A counselor can also help couples work through changes in sexual activity and intimacy.

Accept practical help.

Depending on your cancer stage and treatment plan, there may be many changes in your lifestyle and capabilities. Some family members may be too young to understand, or others may not be prepared to take on additional responsibilities. Don’t be afraid to ask your community for help in situations like these.

Help can come from many sources, including friends, neighbors, volunteers, charities and government agencies. Support also comes in many forms, including cooked meals, household chores and babysitting services. People in your circle may even offer to drive you to and from treatment, buy your groceries or give your primary caretaker a break. 

However you choose to begin dealing with your diagnosis as a family, we’re here to help. At Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology (TBRO), more than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.