Your diagnosis can be extremely stressful and may put a strain on your relationships. This information and advice can help you manage relationships with family, friends and partners and to help you cope if you have children.
Relationships with family, friends and partners
Your diagnosis can be extremely stressful and may put a strain on your relationships. Feeling supported and connected to people around you can be very important.
Telling your partner, family and friends you cancer is never easy. It's likely to be a shock for them but there's no right or wrong way to tell someone that you have cancer.
For more information on talking to family and friends and telling people you have cancer and how to deal with their reactions read our 'Younger woman’s guide to ovarian cancer' [PDF].
Your relationship with your partner
Your partner is likely to be very distressed and can feel as much anxiety as you. It can help to talk about your fears and what impact cancer and treatment has on both of you. This can help you both deal with these issues.
Starting a new relationship
You may not be in a relationship when you are diagnosed with ovarian cancer. You may worry about how to start a new relationship, particularly if your treatment means you will not be able to have children. A question frequently asked is "when do I tell my new partner that I have had cancer?". There's no right or wrong answer. It's likely that you will know when the time is right. Building a relationship on trust and honesty will strengthen it.
Despite the difficulties, many young women have reported positive changes in their lives since their diagnosis, including in their relationships, their sense of spirituality and their general appreciation of life.
Coping if you have children
Coping with your diagnosis and treatment is hard enough but throw all the other responsibilities into the mix and it can feel overwhelming. It can be hard not to feel guilty, inadequate and frustrated if you can no longer manage to keep all the balls in the air.
Talking to your children about your diagnosis
With the rush and stress of your treatment it's not always possible to sit down with your children straight away to explain what's going on. Children are very sensitive to change and often suspect that a parent is ill long before they are told. Sometimes children's fantasies can be much worse than reality. By talking to your children you give them permission to talk to you, your partner or a family member about their fears. It might also help to:
- Tell children together: if you have more than one child, telling them together can keep secrets and misinformation to a minimum.
- Tell them what they need to know: firstly that you're poorly, secondly the correct name of the disease and finally some detail about what the treatment is. Also warn them of any side effects such as losing your hair.
- Keep it simple: dealing with your children's emotions on top of your own worry and exhaustion can be hard but being open with children can avoid the additional stress of trying to keep a secret.
Macmillan Cancer Support has excellent guides on talking to children about cancer. Fruit Fly Collective also have a group of toolkits for young people who are affected by a parent being diagnosed with cancer.
How will my children react?
Their reaction will depend on their age and previous experience of loss. They may experience:
- Anger: many children, of all ages, react with anger – at you, a teacher or their peers. This is very common and can be hard to deal with without getting angry yourself.
- Regression: you may find that young children go backwards in their development. This is a normal response. For example, they may start wetting the bed, become clingier, go back to using a dummy or start playing up at school or getting into trouble.
- Physical symptoms: children might complain of a headache, tummy ache, dizziness, sleeping problems and a loss of appetite. Girls are more likely to experience physical symptoms than boys.
What can I do?
Let your children know that you understand why they feel angry and allow them to express themselves. It might help them to channel their anger, for example through exercise or art.
You should let a young child’s teacher know what is happening so that they understand the reason for any behaviour change.
If you're in hospital your first instinct might be to not let your children see you. However, children who see their mother before and after surgery have been shown to cope better. Prepare them by letting them know what they might see. For example, learn by play through a doctor's set or by tying headscarves onto dolls and bandaging teddies. Show them pictures of drips and drains where possible, describe a catheter bag and warn them what some of the other patients might look like.
Ask your clinical nurse specialist (CNS) about counselling options for children.
Teenagers and older children
Teenage children may find your illness particularly difficult to deal with. Some may be very supportive and helpful while others may struggle due to being in denial or not knowing what to say. They may find it hard to open up about how they're feeling, or appear uncaring and dismissive of your illness, and spend a lot of time watching TV or doing activities where they zone out. This is their way of protecting themselves.
What can I do?
Continue to keep your older children informed of what is happening. The chances are that they are very concerned but just don't know how to express it.
Teenagers can be sensitive and they might want your diagnosis to remain private. Before telling a teenager's teacher be sure to discuss it with them. If they have exams or coursework the school might be able to make allowances.
Try to give your child a feeling of security. Explaining what is happening and any changes in routine can be a great help.
Talking to older children about genetic risk may be appropriate. Read more about family risk and hereditary ovarian cancer.
This information is reviewed regularly and is in line with accepted national and international guidelines. All of our publications undergo an expert peer review and are reviewed by women with ovarian cancer to ensure that we provide accurate and high-quality information. To find out more take a look at our information standards.