Family matters | Leukaemia Foundation

Family matters

A diagnosis of a blood cancer can cause an extreme amount of stress within any family. Where children are involved, it can be especially difficult. Family routines are often disrupted with frequent trips to the hospital for tests or treatment. It can be difficult to keep up with many of the activities the family previously enjoyed. In addition, there will be times of separation from family members for periodic hospital stays.

Changes in roles and responsibilities

Normal family roles and responsibilities can be disrupted by a diagnosis of cancer. Members of the family may suddenly have to perform roles that they are not familiar with, such as cooking, cleaning, doing the banking and taking care of children. In other cases they may have to take on extra roles and responsibilities within the family, sometimes on top of their paid work. This can be both physically and mentally exhausting.

While it is important to try to maintain as normal a family life as possible, it is also important to have realistic expectations. Realising that things will be different for some time can reduce stress and provide a realistic basis to cope with your situation.

It is also important to think about allocating reasonable responsibilities to various family members and friends. In most cases people are only too willing to help if they can, especially if they are guided by being given specific tasks. Remember, people often don’t know what to do when someone close to them has cancer. Asking them to provide some practical help is often a relief because they feel they are doing something to make the situation better.

Helpful suggestions:

  • Encourage family members including children to express how they are feeling about the disruptions to their lives.
  • Set priorities and identify strategies that can help maintain as normal a family life as possible. Someone outside the family, like a friend or a professional like a social worker may be able to help you with this.
  • Keep family members informed about daily routines, rosters, who will be delivering or picking children up from school, etc.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. People are generally only too willing to be involved and it is easier for them if they are given a specific job to do.
  • When possible allow yourself to maintain as much of your familiar role as possible within the family. This may help to maintain some normality in the situation and give you and everyone else in the family a better sense of control and hope for the future.


Having a serious illness in the family can pose special challenges for children. While children are usually resilient, changes to their normal routines, coping with separation from a parent or sibling and the changing roles and responsibilities within the family can lead to some confusion and worry. Children with a sick parent or sibling may feel confused and left out because they are not receiving the same amount of attention as usual. Behaving in unfamiliar ways or testing the boundaries is understandable as the child tries to cope with the significant upheaval in their lives. During this time children need a great deal of support, guidance and love. Sticking as much as possible to normal routines like bedtimes, applying the expected boundaries on behaviours and having a consistent approach to discipline can help to make the child feel more secure.

Impact on relationships

Serious illness within a family can be very challenging for partner relationships. As well as dealing with the threat of losing a loved one, treatments make many demands on partners’ time and emotional resources. Unfortunately relationships sometimes break down under the strain, especially if serious problems existed in the relationship prior to the diagnosis.

However, many people report that they become closer and that they experience a strengthening of their relationship through facing this difficult time together. A changed attitude to life, which involves a heightened appreciation of everyday family life and close relationships, is also common.

It is important to be aware that treatment closure can be a very sensitive time when there is a need to deal with issues within your relationship. Many people benefit from receiving the support from someone outside the family who can help them deal with the issues that the illness has raised within their relationship and their family. We are here to support you and understand your concerns and, if necessary, to refer you to other support or counselling services. Please contact us if you’d like to talk.



Last updated on June 19th, 2019

Developed by the Leukaemia Foundation in consultation with people living with a blood cancer, Leukaemia Foundation support staff, haematology nursing staff and/or Australian clinical haematologists. This content is provided for information purposes only and we urge you to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis, treatment and answers to your medical questions, including the suitability of a particular therapy, service, product or treatment in your circumstances. The Leukaemia Foundation shall not bear any liability for any person relying on the materials contained on this website.

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