Colorectal Cancer

Support from family and friends

Coping with a serious illness can be a challenge and support from family and friends is often crucial. However, knowing when or how to offer support, and how much support to offer can be difficult. 

The majority of people we interviewed said they had received excellent support from family and friends and that it made a tremendous difference to them. Many felt that support had got them through their ordeal and had brought them closer to others. A woman explains how she coped with 6 major cancer operations with support from her partner. Another woman was moved and greatly assisted in her recovery by the support she received from family, health professionals and her community. Other people appreciated practical assistance with cooking, shopping and household chores especially if there were children or others who needed looking after. A few people did not want or expect much support but sometimes said they were pleasantly surprised when it was offered.

Sometimes support from family and friends could be intrusive, overwhelming, and occasionally morbid. One man explains how difficult it became for him to repeatedly discuss his condition with well-wishers. A woman was annoyed by tearful visits and prayers that seemed to assume she was going to die. A few people, such as a man whose job involved the pastoral care of others, felt strongly that they wished to keep their illness private. However, a woman who at first wanted privacy explains how she came to see the interest of others in a different light.

The strain of dealing with a life-threatening illness sometimes gave rise to complex emotions within families. One woman felt that she could not express her true feelings in front of her family because it was too upsetting for them to listen to. Another woman explains how her husband's efforts to help her at times became draining. A third woman found that her husband became over-protective and this made it difficult to accept support from others.

Quite often, patients found that they had to support friends or family members who were not coping with the situation. A woman remembers being the one to dole out tea and sympathy to a friend who had come to offer her support. Another woman, with advanced cancer, explains how her husband began to behave as if she had already died. Several people had not realised how much strain their partners were under.

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Dealing with illness over a long period of time could affect the levels of support offered. One woman became depressed when family members had to return to work after her initial convalescence and she was spending a lot of time alone. Another woman found that family support waned over time. For those who did not have extensive support networks, the kindness of health professionals and support groups were often vital.

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Last reviewed August 2016.

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